Deaths blamed on tainted meat climb to 9

At least 62 people in 12 states sickened

3 suffer miscarriages

January 15, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

The number of deaths traced to contaminated meat from a Sara Lee Corp. processing plant in Michigan has climbed to nine, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported yesterday. In addition, three women have suffered miscarriages.

The outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes has been identified in 62 people in 12 states since August, with five new cases confirmed in Arizona, health officials said.

Nine adults have died and three women suffered miscarriages after eating hot dogs and possibly delicatessen meats containing Listeria bacteria, the federal health agency said.

The death toll has more than doubled from the four cases announced by the CDC on Dec. 22, the day Sara Lee said it would recall more than 300 varieties of meat products processed at its giant Bil Mar Foods facility in Zeeland, Mich.

The CDC has identified two different strains of listeria from open and unopened packages of franks and deli meats made at the plant. The strain found in deli meats hasn't yet been linked to human illness, said CDC medical epidemiologist Paul Mead.

A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Health Services said the agency is investigating other possible cases of listeriosis that match the rare strain linked to Bil Mar Foods.

It's likely there will be more deaths and illnesses linked to this listeria outbreak, health officials said. Listeria has an incubation period of up to six weeks, and many people may still have recalled product in their freezers.

In addition, more than half the states aren't required to report listeriosis to the federal government. Only 22 states require such reporting, according to a CDC survey in 1989, the last time states were surveyed. They include Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

Kenneth Moll, a lawyer suing Sara Lee on behalf of anyone made ill by the recalled meats, said he has been contacted by people in seven states not reported by the CDC. He said he has learned of 15 deaths and 325 illnesses in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado.

In addition to some of those states, the CDC reports illnesses or deaths in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont and Arizona.

The affected Sara Lee products include hot dogs and deli meats with the brand names Ball Park, Bil Mar, Bryan Bunsize, Bryan 3-pound Club Pack, Grillmaster, Hygrade, Mr. Turkey, Sara Lee Deli Meat and Sara Lee Home Roast.

Products with establishment numbers P261 or 6911 are affected.

Pub Date: 1/15/99

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