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News Release

   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
  September 13, 2002


Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner or Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160

NJDHSS Announces Investigation of Listeria Infections

TRENTON -The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services has joined a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation into an outbreak since late June of cases of Listeria monocytogenes in the Northeast and Midwest, Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. announced today. The infection occurs when people eat contaminated food products.

So far, 16 cases - 10 in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in Maryland, and one each in Connecticut and Michigan - have been linked to the outbreak. No common source of the illness has yet been determined.

"New Jersey usually records between 20 and 30 cases annually. Since the end of June, New Jersey has reported 11 cases of listeriosis statewide, including four deaths," said Commissioner Lacy. "Further laboratory analysis is being conducted to determine if the cases were caused by the same strain of Listeria and are part of the outbreak.''

Listeriosis is caused by a bacterium that is found in the soil and water, and in animal feed. Outbreaks of the disease have been associated with unpasteurized (raw) milk, soft cheeses, contaminated vegetables, and ready-to-eat meats. The disease is not spread person-to-person. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. If the infection involves the nervous system, it can cause meningitis and/or encephalitis, which are characterized by headaches, stiff neck and confusion or convulsions.

Anyone can become infected, but pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk. All of New Jersey's deaths occurred in elderly residents of Mercer, Burlington (two deaths) and Gloucester counties.

"People can protect themselves by taking basic steps to prevent the transmission of any food-borne illness," said State Epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz, M.D. "This includes washing and cooking food thoroughly, keeping uncooked meats separate from ready-to-eat foods, avoiding raw milk, and thoroughly washing surfaces and utensils used to prepare raw foods."

In addition, people at high risk may want to take the following additional precautions:

  • Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined and Mexican-style cheeses.
  • Cook leftover or ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs until steaming hot.
  • Although the risk of listeriosis associated with cold cut meats from deli counters is relatively low, those at high risk may wish to avoid them or thoroughly heat them before eating.

New Jersey is participating in a multi-state investigation with the CDC to determine the source of the infections. New Jersey is also conducting active surveillance through local health departments, clinical laboratories and hospitals to determine if there are any additional cases. Additional information about listeriosis may be obtained at the CDC website at


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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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