Killer rockmelon outbreak claims two lives in US

Last updated 20:16 18/08/2012

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Salmonella linked to rockmelon is responsible for killing two people and sickening 141 others in 20 US states, federal regulators said.

Among those sickened, 31 were hospitalised, the US Food and Drug Administration said in a statement. Kentucky had the most reports of illness, 50, followed by Illinois with 17 and Indiana with 13, according to the statement.

"FDA officials are actively investigating potential sources of the outbreak, and will continue to update the public as more specific information becomes available," the FDA said.

While the FDA didn't say what farms the rockmelons came from or in what stores they were sold, state officials in Kentucky and Indiana said they found evidence that the fruit may have been grown in southwestern Indiana. Almost a year ago 146 people were sickened and at least 30 died from listeria linked to rockmelons grown at Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado. That outbreak was the deadliest in almost 90 years.

"It is great that state health departments give us the numbers, but why not the name of the farm where the cantaloupes (rockmelon) were grown, and more importantly, what grocery stores they were sold at," Bill Marler, a lawyer at Marler Clark LLP in Seattle who represents more than 40 victims of the Jensen Farms outbreak, said.

Kentucky Deaths

Salmonella, a bacteria, remains the most frequent cause of foodborne infections in the US with an estimated 1.2 million people stricken each year and $365 million in direct medical expenditures, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported in June 2011.

In Kentucky, two tests on the rockmelons connected to the outbreak showed the same strain of salmonella that has stricken consumers in the state, said Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The first illnesses began in the second week of July, she said in a telephone interview.

The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Alabama, 7; Arkansas, 3; California, 2; Georgia, 1; Illinois, 17; Indiana, 13; Iowa, 7; Kentucky, 50; Michigan, 6; Minnesota, 3; Missouri, 9; Mississippi, 2; New Jersey, 1; North Carolina, 3; Ohio, 3; Pennsylvania, 2; South Carolina, 3; Tennessee, 6; Texas, 1; and Wisconsin, 2, according to the FDA.

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days and most people recover without treatment, according to the FDA.

In some people, the diarrhoea may be so severe that the patient may need to be hospitalised. In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other sites in the body and can cause death unless treated promptly with antibiotics.

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