The number of reported cases of listeriosis in the European Union rose for the sixth straight year in 2014, according to the latest annual report by European Food Safety Authority and European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC).
During 2014, there were 2,161 confirmed cases of listeriosis, an increase of 16 percent from the 1,868 confirmed cases reported in 2013. Of those, 210 cases were fatal- the highest number of Listeria deaths reported in the EU since 2009. About 18 percent of the fatalities were among those over 65.
Symptoms of a Listeria infection include high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
Smoked fish and soft cheeses were the largest offenders. In the U.S., dairy products are the most common source of Listeria outbreaks.
During 2015, there were two multistate Listeria outbreaks and both were linked to dairy products. Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems.
One was linked to soft cheeses produced by Karoun Dairies Inc. Thirty people in 10 states were sickened. Three people died and one woman had a miscarriage.
Health officials used DNA “fingerprinting” to identify cases of listeriosis linked to the consumption of cheeses distributed by Karoun going back to 2010. The most recent illnesses were reported during the summer of 2015.
Most of those sickened, who ranged in agerange in age from less than 1 year to 92 years old, reported eating Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Mediterranean, or Mexican-style cheeses, including ani, paneer, feta, Middle Eastern-style string cheese, nabulsi or village cheese before they became ill. And most were of Middle Eastern or Eastern European descent or shopped at Middle Eastern or Eastern European-style markets.
On September 16, a recall was issued for the cheeses sold under the brand names: Karoun, Arz, Gopi, Queso Del Valle, Central Valley Creamery, Gopi, and Yanni. The cheeses were vacuum packed, in jars or in pails in weights varying from 5 ounces to 30 pounds and distributed to grocery stores and food service accounts. A complete list of retailers that sold the cheeses was not made available but two stores that carried them were Publix and Sam’s Club.
The other multistate Listeria outbreak of 2015 was linked to Blue Bell ice cream. The outbreak sickened at least 10 people from four states. Three of them died.
In 2014, two deadly outbreaks were linked to soft cheeses. A three-state outbreak linked to Oasis cheeses killed one person and sickened two others. And an outbreak linked to Roos cheese sickened eight people in Maryland and California, killing one of them.