Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Canada's Listeria Outbreaks Tapering Off

With no new recalls to report, and both the cheese and deli meat outbreaks winding down, it's time for a brief update on the case tallies for these Made-in-Canada Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks.

The Public Health Agency of Canada released its latest update of illnesses and deaths related to the consumption of Listeria monocytogenes-contaminated meat produced by Maple Leaf Consumer Foods. As of mid-afternoon today, the key statistics are as follows:

  • Total confirmed cases: 47
  • Total suspected cases: 9
  • Deaths where listeriosis was contributing cause: 16
  • Deaths under investigation: 8

Confirmed cases in this outbreak have been reported in seven provinces: Ontario (36 cases, 14 deaths), British Columbia (4 cases, 1 death), Alberta (2 cases, 1 death), Saskatchewan (1 case), Manitoba (1 case), Quebec (2 cases), and New Brunswick (1 case). 

New Brunswick's lone victim of the national outbreak was an elderly woman who lived in a nursing home, and who died recently in hospital. The province received confirmation earlier today that the woman had become infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes. This death is still showing as a case under investigation in today's PHAC update.

Québec posted an update this morning on its cheese-linked Listeria monocytogenes outbreak. The province has confirmed 28 cases so far, including one death – an unidentified person  in his or her 70's. Twenty of the 28 victims were women – 9 of them pregnant. Four of the pregnant victims gave birth to infected babies. A fifth child, not included in the official totals, was still-born. All of the remaining victims were adults, aged 28 to 89 years.

The people most susceptible to serious illness as a result of Listeria monocytogenes infections are the elderly, the very young, people who are immune-deficient, and pregnant women. And these outbreaks were no exception. A disproportionate number of the reported victims were elderly, already in hospital, or were pregnant. 

These outbreaks are a sharp reminder that foods at elevated risk of Listeria monocytogenes contamination – soft cheeses, raw milk, ready-to-eat deli meats, and smoked fish – should not be on the menus of nursing homes or hospitals. Nor should pregnant women consume these foods. 

The consequences of infection are too severe.

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