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News Release

   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
  September 19, 2002


Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner
(609) 984-7160

Update on Listeria Infections

TRENTON -State Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. today announced that 19 cases of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported statewide since the end of June.

Five people have died, not six as reported yesterday. Burlington County health officials incorrectly reported the patient's status to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

The 19 cases are spread over 11 counties and the patients range in age from newborn to 89. Eleven are females. The most recent date that someone became ill in New Jersey was September 10.

To date, New Jersey's deaths occurred in elderly residents of Bergen (two deaths), Burlington, Mercer and Gloucester counties, ages 56 to 82, and all had underlying medical problems.

New Jersey is part of a multi-state investigation led by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine whether the New Jersey cases are linked to an outbreak occurring in 10 states and its cause.

There have been a total of 112 listeriosis cases reported nationwide. Of these cases, almost all patients have been hospitalized and 19 patients have died.

The infection is acquired through eating contaminated food products. Listeriosis is caused by a bacterium that is found in soil and water, and in animal feed. Outbreaks of the disease have been associated with consumption of unpasteurized (raw) milk, soft cheeses, contaminated vegetables and ready-to-eat meats.

Anyone exposed to the infection can become infected, but pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk.

The disease is not spread person-to-person. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. If the infection involves the nervous system, it can cause meningitis and/or encephalitis, which are characterized by headaches, stiff neck and confusion or convulsions.

"We are actively participating in this multi-state, federally led investigation,'' said Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. "High risk individuals should take appropriate precautions.''

The precautions include washing and cooking food thoroughly, keeping uncooked meats separate from ready-to-eat foods, avoiding raw milk, and thoroughly washing surfaces and utensils used to prepare raw foods,'' said State Epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz, M.D.

In addition, it is prudent for people at high risk may want to take the following additional precautions:

  • Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined and Mexican-style cheeses.
  • Cook leftover or ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs until steaming hot.
  • Although the risk of listeriosis associated with cold cut meats from deli counters is relatively low, those at high risk may wish to avoid them or thoroughly heat them before eating.

As part of the CDC investigation, New Jersey and other states have begun to administer questionnaires to patients who have the disease or to the next of kin of those who have died.

Additional information about listeriosis may be obtained at the CDC website at

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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