THREE people have now died and a dozen others have fallen seriously ill across Australia’s east coast after eating rockmelons contaminated with listeria.
NSW Health yesterday afternoon confirmed five more people had been struck down with the illness after eating the contaminated fruit.
The latest figures takes the total number of cases linked to the national outbreak to 15, including three deaths.
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Of the five new cases, four are from Victoria, taking the total number of cases in the southern state to five, and one is from Tasmania.
The onset of their illness occurred the week after the initial ten cases, most recently on 22 February.
There have been six cases in NSW and three in Queensland.
Of the three people who have died, two were from Sydney.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said all of the 15 cases have involved elderly people.
“Most of them have significant underlying health conditions,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“We can confirm that 13 of the 15 cases consumed rockmelon before the onset of their illness.”
The affected fruit has since been removed from supermarket shelves, but NSW Health is urging anyone who may already have rockmelons in their homes to throw them out.
“People vulnerable to listeriosis should discard any rockmelon in their home that was purchased before 1 March,” Dr Sheppeard said.
The outbreak has been linked to a farm near Griffith, in the NSW Riverina region.
The producers voluntarily ceased production last Friday, immediately after being notified of the potential link to illness.
NSW Health is working alongside the NSW Food Authority and other state and territory departments to investigate how the cantaloupes were contaminated.
Listeria can be extremely serious and even life-threatening for people over the age of 70, pregnant women, and anyone suffering from diabetes, cancer or weakened immune systems.
Typically around one third of cases die, a NSW Health spokesperson said.
Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, and sometimes diarrhoea and can often take a few days or as long as six weeks to appear.
Unfortunately, there are no useful tests for the infection prior to the onset of symptoms, so people most at risk are urged to consult their doctor as early as possible should symptoms appear.
People most at risk of listeriosis are urged to avoid the following foods:
- Pre-cut melons such as rockmelon or watermelon
- Pre-packed cold salads including coleslaw and fresh fruit salad
- Pre-cooked cold chicken
- cold delicatessen meats
- Raw seafood
- uncooked smoked seafood (e.g. smoked salmon)
- Unpasteurised milk or milk products
- soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta or blue-vein)
- Sprouted seeds or raw mushrooms.