Three Kansans have died from an outbreak of listeriosis, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced Friday.
A total of five Kansans became ill between January 2014 and January 2015 after a majority of them ate Blue Bell Creameries ice cream products at the same hospital, KDHE said. The five patients had been hospitalized for unrelated causes.
The outbreak was recently discovered after two patients were identified with the same strain of listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Further investigation identified three other patients with listeriosis who had been hospitalized for unrelated causes before the onset of listeriosis, according to KDHE.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned consumers about the potential contamination in Blue Bell Creameries’ products. Kansas health officials are warning consumers who purchased the following Blue Bell Creameries novelty items to discard them: Chocolate Chip Country Cookie, Great Divide Bar, Sour Pop Green Apple Bar, Cotton Candy Bar, Scoops, Vanilla Stick Slices, Almond Bar and No Sugar Added Mooo Bar (regular Mooo Bars are not included).
Blue Bell Creameries has pulled potentially contaminated items from retail locations. At this time, no other products from Blue Bell Creameries have been linked to this outbreak.
The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. Symptoms begin from three to 70 days after consuming the bacteria.
“The disease can be from mild gastrointestinal infections such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, which can last 24 to 48 hours, all the way to what we call invasive disease, meaning it’s invaded the bloodstream or the cerebral spinal fluid, causing meningoencephalitis,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital. “Those are the types of severe illnesses that can lead to death.”
Listeria is a bacteria found in soil, water, raw milk, poultry and cattle. The deadliest case of listeria was in 2011, when 30 people died after eating cantaloupe from a Colorado farm. Ultimately, the farm was shut down, the farm owners pleaded guilty to criminal charges and several lawsuits were filed.
Hawkinson said listeria, as well as being found in the soil and decaying vegetable matter, is known to grow in processed meats, such as hot dogs and bologna.
“If it’s in a good environment, the bacteria can continue to multiply and replicate,” he said. “We know that listeria can grow in the refrigerator at cooler temperatures as well.”
The government’s food safety system has come under increasing fire during the past few years, most often for setting high allowable standards for pathogen contamination. The government took months to recall chicken tainted with salmonella from Foster Farms in California, when 634 people were sickened across 29 states.