The number of deaths caused by an outbreak of listeria food poisoning tied to contaminated cantaloupes is now as high as 14, MSNBC reports.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the outbreak had caused eight deaths and sickened 55 people. Officials in Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming have now reported six more deaths, according to food safety lawyer Bill Marler.
"Why the CDC is taking its time is that with listeria, even though they're getting genetic matches, they want to be as accurate as possible," Marler said, noting that many victims may have underlying health conditions that could confound the exact cause of death.
"Unfortunately, that number is going to go up," he added.
The CDC is expected to release an official update later on Tuesday.
Bloomberg reports that the recent deaths have made this the deadliest food-born infection since 1998, when 21 people died from listeria linked to contaminated hot dogs.
The Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 14 warned consumers not to eat cantaloupes from Colorado’s Rocky Ford region shipped by Jensen Farms. The cantaloupes were distributed from July 29 to Sept. 10 to at least 17 states. The previous deaths were in Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
According to MSNBC, people can become ill weeks after eating food tainted with listeria. Most of those sickened in the current outbreak have been older than 60. Listeria causes mild illnesses in health people, but can be dangerous for the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.
"It's basically a feature of listeriosis itself. It affects people who have other counts against them," Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the division of foodborne, waterborne and fungal infections at the CDC, told MSNBC. "It's just a severe infection."