Number of people sickened by listeria outbreak grows

Listeria monocytogenes | AP Photo

An outbreak of a foodborne illness linked to some Blue Bell ice cream products has grown to include three people in Texas who became ill, according to federal health authorities.

Carol Crawford, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed Thursday that the number of people sickened by listeriosis has increased.

Tests confirmed that three people in Texas had the same strain of listeria previously found in five others at a Wichita, Kansas, hospital. Three of the five in Kansas died and health officials there have said listeriosis, also known as listeria, might have been a contributing factor in the deaths.

The three in Texas also were hospitalized for unrelated problems when they developed listeria. They were hospitalized at some point from 2011 to 2014, the CDC said in a statement. They apparently became ill with listeria while hospitalized after consuming a 3-ounce cup of Blue Bell produced at the company’s plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The cups were part of a previous recall and the manufacturing plant, one of four the company operates, has been temporarily closed.

Preliminary tests indicate another three people hospitalized at some point from 2010 to 2012 appear to have the same strain of listeria as the others, according to the CDC, but further testing is necessary before confirming a connection. The federal agency did not immediately indicate where those three were hospitalized.

Blue Bell Creameries on Tuesday announced a third product recall as a result of the contamination. The company, based in Brenham, Texas, has recalled more than 25 of its products since last month.

Listeria is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, the CDC said. The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with immune systems weakened by cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions.

The Texas Rangers baseball club said Wednesday that they won’t offer Blue Bell at their upcoming homestand against the Houston Astros. The Astros previously said Blue Bell wouldn’t be offered on their opening day earlier this week. Large retailers such as Wal-Mart in recent weeks have either pulled the items included in the recalls or removed all Blue Bell products from their shelves.

A call early Thursday to a company spokesman was not immediately returned.

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