A SIXTH life has been claimed by contaminated rockmelon after an elderly New South Wales woman contracted listeria from the fruit and was confirmed dead today.
The woman, aged in her 90s, lost her battle to the bacterial infection which has now been linked to six deaths — three people from NSW and three from Victoria. Nineteen people nationwide — including those who died — have been affected in the outbreak. Among them was a Victoria woman who suffered a miscarriage.
Communicable Diseases NSW Health director Vicky Sheppeard said the elderly woman who died today had developed listeriosis before the outbreak was identified.
“There have been no new cases notified associated with the outbreak in NSW since February 19 when it was first identified,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“It is still possible that more cases will be linked to the outbreak given the incubation period for the disease is up to 70 days, however there is no ongoing risk of listeriosis from rockmelons now on sale.
“It is important to know that people fall ill with listeriosis every year but most of the cases are never related to an outbreak like we are seeing. Sadly, up to one third of those who do contract the disease will die.”
NSW Health and the NSW Food Authority determined that the source of the infection came from a single farm.
“Once the investigation identified the source of the infection … these rockmelons were immediately recalled from market,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“People at risk of listeriosis should always take care with handling and storage of food, including not purchasing precut melons, salads, bagged lettuce, deli meats, raw seafood and sprouted seeds.”
Victoria’s deputy chief health officer on Friday confirmed the fifth victim, an elderly man who died from the infection earlier in March.
“This latest case — the death of a man in his 80s — has only just been linked to the outbreak as a result of our microbiological testing,” Dr Brett Sutton said.
Two earlier deaths in Victoria have also been linked to the outbreak, as have two in Sydney.
The NSW victims were identified as a man and a woman both aged over 65 with underlying medical conditions.
Food Safety Information Council spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said listeria was unusual, because it could take up to 90 days to produce symptoms.
“We would expect to see more cases linked to the rockmelon,” she said.
“If you are concerned, if you have been unwell, if you have eaten rockmelon and you are worried, go and see your GP.”
Rombola Family Farms at Nericon near Griffith in the NSW Riverina voluntarily halted production of potentially contaminated melon types after becoming aware of the outbreak.
All affected produce has been withdrawn from sale and distribution.
Information to date indicates all people affected in Victoria ate rockmelon before the national recall.
Rockmelons currently available for sale are not affected.
The bacterial infection is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, their unborn babies and elderly people. It can also cause death in people with weak immune systems.
All Victorian cases of rockmelon listeria were identified in “high-risk” patients.
As a result of the outbreak, the NSW Food Authority may apply additional regulatory actions or supervision to the rockmelon industry to ensure compliance and to see improved safety outcomes.