Dec 19, 2014 07:09 PM EST
This holiday season you may want to steer clear of the sweets-or at least caramel apples. Though the caramel sweets are often an Autumn/Winter treat, health officials with the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are saying that they may be the link between a multi-state Listeria outbreak that has to date led to more than four deaths, and dozens of hospitalizations. Reporting this morning, Dec. 19, on the condition of the outbreak, the CDC says that at least 28 individuals spanning the states of Arizona, Texas and Minnesota have been infected and are facing the life-threatening illness.
Caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, Listeriosis or Listeria is a disease that can cause gastrointestinal distress and flu-like symptoms in individuals, with a particular ability for harming people whose immune systems are stressed or compromised, including the elderly and pregnant women. In a press release issued this morning, the CDC warns all consumers to avoid prepackaged caramel apples while they investigate the outbreak, and source the cause of the infection in a joint collaboration alongside the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state health organizations.
Of the currently 28 infected patients, three were children between the ages of 5 and 15, and nine others either involved newborn infants or pregnant women. While the symptoms may remain relatively milk, in severe cases, such as those of the four individuals who recently died of Listeriosis, people can develop swelling of the brain (encephalitis) or bacterial meningitis.
Discussing the particular difficulties in dealing with the Listeriosis outbreak, which can have incubation periods anywhere from three to seventy days, infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Dr. William Schaffner says that consumers should err on the side of caution since the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes is particularly difficult to control, and its growth is not even inhibited by refrigeration. So consumers have no way of knowing whether or not a caramel apple is infected until it is too late and symptoms develop.
"We can anticipate that more illnesses will occur over time" Schaffner says. "Even [if] the product is removed from the market, a lot of theses [caramel] apples have been consumed."
"Listeria has evolved and it has evolved to grow really well at refrigerated temperatures [too]."
For updates and more information on the specific locations/cases currently being investigated, please visit the CDC website, and stay tuned for more reports.
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