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Death toll from listeria-tainted cantaloupes rises to 15

September 30, 2011 |  1:14 pm



Listeria transmitted through contaminated cantaloupes has now killed 15 people and sickened 84 others in 19 states, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The higher death toll is the official tally as of Sept. 29; it was announced in a statement posted on the agency's website. Three of the deaths were in Colorado, the suspected source of the tainted fruit.

The state hardest hit has been New Mexico with five confirmed deaths. Two deaths were reported in Texas and one each in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

There have been reports that the number of deaths linked to the outbreak may be higher, but a spokesperson at the Atlanta-based agency said in a telephone interview that the CDC's data is the official count. Health officials have said tests are being conducted in at least one more death to determine if it was linked to the listeria outbreak.

The outbreak has been called the deadliest food-borne outbreak since 1998.

Among those sickened by the bacteria, Colorado had the most cases -- 17, followed by New Mexico with  13, the CDC stated.

Authorities have said that they have traced the outbreak to cantaloupe fields operated by Jensen Farms in Colorado. The farm voluntarily recalled its 2011 cantaloupe harvest earlier this month.


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Photo: Cantaloupes rot in the afternoon heat on a field on the Jensen Farms in Colorado this week. Federal health officials blame contaminated fruit for killing 15 and sickening 84. Credit:  Ed Andrieski / Associated Press