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San Diego Outbreak Could Be Tied to Tainted Cheese

Times Staff Writer

San Diego County health officials and specialists at UC San Diego Medical Center are conducting surveys and tests to determine whether an outbreak of listeriosis found in Los Angeles and Orange counties has occurred here, officials said Friday.

The health officials are also trying to find out whether any listeriosis cases found in San Diego County are related to the tainted Jalisco cheeses. While an increase in listeriosis cases has been found at UCSD Medical Center, authorities said it could be several days before any conclusions are reached.

Dr. Richard Straube, who as chief epidemiologist is in charge of monitoring infections at the medical center, said preliminary research indicates that nine cases of listeriosis have been recorded there in the last 12 months--including six in the last three months.

“Six is more than we’d expect to see, but it’s not something to make you say ‘Oh my God, we’ve got an outbreak,’ ” Straube said. “It may be a statistical fluke that we see sometimes with this particular disease.”

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All hospitals in the county are being surveyed to determine whether there has been an unusual increase in listeriosis. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, 28 deaths have been linked to the bad cheeses.

Straube said none of the UCSD cases thus far has been linked to Jalisco cheeses.

Dr. Donald Ramras, San Diego County public health officer, said he received a telephone call Friday from a local physician “who said that they had seen a bunch of cases” of listeriosis “and he was wondering why this might be.”

Ramras said he was not aware of any recent deaths in San Diego County stemming from the disease.

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“All I will say is that we will work with this group and see if we can pin it down to cheese or not,” Ramras said. “Time will tell, but time may be weeks to do all of the work you have to do in a situation like this.

“A certain amount of cases do occur ‘normally’; you can get it from animals and from person to person,” Ramras noted. “At this point, it would be very difficult to say that it was from the cheese.”

The medical scientists began their studies as county environmental health workers “pounded the pavement” in a continuing effort to remove Jalisco’s soft cotija and queso fresco cheeses from restaurants and grocery store shelves, Ramras said.

Eighteen environmental workers spent all day Friday visiting 107 Mexican restaurants and “mom and pop” Mexican grocery stores to make certain that the owners had been notified to stop using or selling all Jalisco products. Ramras said they found that the cheeses were still available at 10 locations, “so it was quite worthwhile that we sent them out in the field.”

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Times staff writers David Freed and Glenn F. Bunting contributed to this story.


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