U.S – Washington state is grappling with a deadly Listeria outbreak that has left 5 people sickened and claimed the lives of 3 individuals.

All five patients, whose ages range between 60s and 70s, had weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to severe infections.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, is leading the investigation.

Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium responsible for the infection, is known to cause listeriosis, a severe illness that poses significant risks, especially to vulnerable populations such as the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

It can contaminate food without altering its appearance or smell.

Whole genome sequencing, a powerful genetic fingerprinting tool, indicates that the patients likely share a common source of infection.

Illness onset was recorded between February 27 and June 30, 2023, further intensifying the urgency of identifying the origin of the outbreak.

State and local public health officials are leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of the bacteria’s source. The investigation involves detailed interviews with affected patients and their representatives to piece together a comprehensive profile of the outbreak.

The current outbreak is exceptionally concerning as the state of Washington typically reports only 10 to 25 cases of Listeria infection annually. The sudden surge in infections has caught authorities off guard, heightening the need to implement immediate preventive measures.

Recognizing Listeria symptoms

Symptoms of Listeria infection may take up to 70 days to surface after exposure. Common signs include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Proper laboratory tests are essential for accurate diagnosis, as Listeria infections can mimic other illnesses.

Pregnant women must remain vigilant, as mild, flu-like symptoms may be the only indications of infection. However, Listeria infections in pregnant women can lead to severe complications such as premature delivery, newborn infections, or even stillbirth.

Health officials strongly advise anyone experiencing symptoms of Listeria infection to seek immediate medical attention and inform their doctors about the possibility of Listeria exposure. Early detection and intervention are critical in combating the potentially devastating consequences of listeriosis.

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