One Michigan death and 12 hospitalizations in six states have been linked to packaged produce from a Dole facility in Springfield, however, there have been no reports of related illness in Champaign or Clark counties, according to Gabe Jones, epidemiologist for the Champaign County and Clark County health districts.
“People should probably not be worried about this,” Jones said. “The chances of being infected are very small.”
Because listeria is a “reportable disease,” doctors and lab personnel must report cases to health districts. Jones said there have been no such reports locally. He added that local pharmacies are being monitored for any increase of over-the-counter purchases of drugs for symptoms associated with listeria. No such increase has been noted.
“If a healthy person is infected, chances are there won’t be symptoms, and if there are, they won’t be severe enough that they will want to see a doctor,” Jones said of listeria contamination in general. Symptoms in such cases would be evident within a couple days and would include diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
Listeria is more serious and can be fatal to certain people: pregnant women and newborns, as well as those with compromised immune systems such as the elderly and frail and those with diseases such as cancer. People in these risk groups can develop symptoms from three to 70 days and may have more severe symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, pneumonia and meningitis. Jones said about 1,100 people in the United States each year have symptoms severe enough to seek medical help.
Prevention is key
Jones said the best advice is to take steps to avoid listeria contamination.
“It’s good to know what you can do to improve your chances of not being infected,” he said.
The number one piece of advice: Wash your hands. “Whenever you are preparing food, wash your hands, the (utensils) and the counter tops to avoid cross-contamination.”
Jones advises thoroughly cooking meat, scrubbing potatoes and avoiding raw unpasteurized milk and foods that contain unpasteurized milk. He also advises eating perishables as soon as possible. He said raw vegetables should be rinsed well, even the veggies that come in plastic bags. And, he said people should put some friction into the rinse, to not be satisfied with a quick rinse in the sink.
Canned produce and frozen produce do not pose the risk that fresh produce does, Jones said.
Kathy Fox can be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1773).