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17 in county are sickened by food-borne bacteria listeriosis

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Times Staff Writer

Seventeen people in Los Angeles County have contracted the bacterial food-borne illness listeriosis, including two pregnant women who had stillbirths, health officials said Tuesday.

The number of cases -- tracked between August and November -- is nearly double the number reported during the same period last year, officials said.

The increase in cases does not constitute an outbreak, however, because they were not linked to a common source, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county’s director of public health.

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Still, his office felt it important to remind pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems -- such as people with cancer, diabetes or AIDS -- to avoid certain foods known to be at risk for contamination from the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, Fielding said.

Those foods include the following:

* Deli meat or hot dogs that have not been reheated until steaming hot;

* Refrigerated pates or meat spreads;

* Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as those labeled nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky, unless it is cooked, such as in a casserole;

* Soft cheeses, such as feta, brie and Camembert; blue-veined cheeses; or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco and Panela, unless labeled as being made from pasteurized milk.

In eight of the 17 cases, those infected reported eating at-risk foods. Four of the pregnant women who were sickened had eaten soft or Mexican-style cheeses.

Officials recommended keeping fluid from processed meats from contaminating other food or utensils.

An estimated 2,500 Americans are sickened with listeriosis every year, with about 500 fatal cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one-third of all cases involve pregnant women.

Adults and children who are otherwise healthy rarely fall seriously ill with the disease, whose symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. The infection can spread to the nervous system, leading to headaches, confusion, loss of balance, convulsions and, in rare instances, death.

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Pregnant women who fall ill can experience mild flu-like symptoms, but the disease can infect the newborn or trigger miscarriages, stillbirths or premature deliveries.

Animals can harbor the bacterium, which can be found in unpasteurized milk, as well as processed foods contaminated after being cooked but before being packaged.

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ron.lin@latimes.com

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