June 24, 2019

Listeria Meningitis Deepens Threat of Caramel Apple Outbreak

Federal officials have taken special note of Listeria meningitis illnesses associated with a closely watched outbreak of listeriosis associated with consumption of pre-packaged, commercially produced caramel apples. Outbreak analysis by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) shows that three otherwise healthy children aged 5 to 15 contracted invasive meningitis from the type of Listeria associated with the outbreak.

Depending on the severity of these cases, the families of these children likely have been immersed in critical care situations because meningitis infects a person’s central nervous system. The more common type of illness from Listeria monocytogenes — also deadly — is infection of a person’s bloodstream. Listeria meningitis is severe. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. In advanced, untreated cases, Listeria meningitis patients can fall into coma or experience seizures. It can be deadly in 15 to 30 percent of cases, but the illness can be treated effectively with timely doeses of antibiotics.

According to the CDC, Listeria monocytogenes is one of a handful of bacteria types that can cause meningitis. Toxic E. coli, certain strains of influenza and Streptococcus pneumoniae are other common sources. Invasive meningitis means that germs invade parts of the body that are normally free from germs. Babies and the elderly are the two groups most targeted by meningitis, so the spread of this disease to healthy older children is causing concern among epidemioligists who are trying to stop the outbreak. Unofficially, there is speculation that the availability Halloween caramel apples might have elevated the risk for older children; those of trick-or-treating age.

Meningitis infection may show up in a person by a sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It will often have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and confusion. Babies younger than 1 month old are at a higher risk for severe infections than older children. In babies, the symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to notice. The infant may appear to be slow or inactive (lack of alertness), irritable, vomiting or feeding poorly. The CDC advises that if you think your infant has any of these symptoms, call the doctor or clinic right away.

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