By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Listeria-tainted cantaloupes were shipped to several more states than was previously known, bringing to over 20 the total number of states affected by an outbreak that killed eight people, the FDA said on Thursday.
So far, a total of 55 people in 14 states have been infected from the tainted cantaloupes, with the highest number of patients seen in Colorado where the fruits were grown, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not all the states that received shipments of the fruits appear to have seen infections.
Officials have traced the outbreak to cantaloupes grown at Colorado-based Jensen Farms Inc and sold under the brand name Rocky Ford. The company has voluntarily recalled its cantaloupes shipped between July 29 and September 10, the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.
This is the deadliest U.S. outbreak since a number of salmonella infections killed nine people in 2008 and 2009, Russell said.
The number of Listeria infections from the food-borne illness could easily rise, said Lola Russell, spokeswoman for the CDC.
"We could see more because it can be in a person's system for up to two months before it presents itself," she told Reuters.
The Food and Drug Administration last week said the tainted cantaloupes were shipped to 17 states.
But on Thursday, the agency said several additional states were affected. Those were: Arkansas, California, Idaho and Ohio, the FDA said.
Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterial strain found in the tainted cantaloupes, thrives at low temperatures, the CDC said on its website.
Infection can be particularly dangerous for elderly people, pregnant women and patients with weakened immune systems, health officials said.
Russell said it is unusual for Listeria outbreaks to be linked to fresh produce, and often deli meats are the culprit. This is the first outbreak traced to cantaloupes, she said.
Previous Listeria outbreaks linked to produce were traced to sprouts and celery.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Jerry Norton)
(This story was corrected to fix the number of additional states to remove Oklahoma and to change number of states with infections to 14 from 10)