The recent listeria outbreak in cantaloupe has been noted as the deadliest outbreak of food-related illness in more than 10 years in the United States. At least 16 deaths and 72 illnesses have been associated with listeria infection from Jensen Farms cantaloupes, according to news reports.
Because symptoms of listeria infection can take weeks to become apparent, "we will see more cases likely through October," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told the Associated Press.
To prevent listeria infection, ABC News reported that people should not try to wash bacteria from a suspect cantaloupe, because the bacteria can spread to the inside of the fruit.
USA Today reported that the CDC is warning consumers to throw away cantaloupes if they're not sure where they came from, but if they are sure the cantaloupes are not from Jensen farms, they are OK to eat. The affected cantaloupes -- recalled by Jensen Farms on Sept. 14 -- were shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10, ABC News reported. The cantaloupes were shipped to 25 different states, but listeria cases have appeared in states where the cantaloupes weren't shipped.
But just what are the symptoms of listeria, and how dangerous is it?
Listeria infection is most dangerous to women who are pregnant and people who have impaired immune systems (such as elderly people, people with AIDS, people undergoing chemotherapy or organ-rejection medications, or people with diabetes or kidney disease), the Mayo Clinic reported.
The food-borne illness is most common in deli meats and other foods that have been improperly processed, milk products that were not pasteurized and produce that was grown with contaminated soil or manure. However, it can be killed by cooking the food or pasteurizing it, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
The problem with listeria is that the bacteria isn't killed by freezing or refrigeration. For many healthy people, symptoms are flu-like -- fever, muscle aches, diarrhea and nausea -- and can appear a few days after you've eaten the listeria-contaminated food, to a couple months after you've eaten it, the Mayo Clinic reported. However, if the infection reaches your nervous system, additional symptoms can include headache, convulsions, confusion and loss of balance.
For people with weakened immune systems, listeria infection can even lead to pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis, according to kidshealth.org.
Babies can also become infected with listeria from the mother, which could lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature birth or a fatal infection after the baby is born, according to the Mayo Clinic. For babies, signs of listeria infection include fever, vomiting, low interest in being fed and irritability.
Antibiotics are used to treat listeria infections, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In the past, listeria outbreaks have occurred in sprouts and in celery, USA Today reported.
For the answers to frequently asked questions about the cantaloupe-listeria outbreak, click here.