Sixth person dies as result of listeria linked to rockmelon

A NSW woman in her 90s with significant underlying health conditions has died from listeriosis, taking the number of deaths linked to contaminated rockmelon to six – three people from NSW and three from Victoria.

The total number of people affected nationwide remains at 19.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health said the woman had developed listeriosis before the outbreak was identified.

“There have been no new cases notified associated with the outbreak in NSW since 19 February 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.”

Listeria is found widely in the environment and rarely causes serious illness in the general population but for vulnerable people, such as those who are over 70, pregnant, or have diabetes or suppressed immune systems, it can be extremely serious or even life threatening.

NSW Health was first notified on 19 February of possible links between two NSW listeriosis patients and a Victorian patient, which indicated there could be an outbreak. NSW Health and the NSW Food Authority acted immediately to examine those cases and find the source of the infection.

Once the investigation identified the source of the infection – rockmelons from a single farm – these rockmelons were immediately recalled from market.

“People at risk of listeriosis should always take care with handling and storage of food, including not purchasing pre-cut melons, salads, bagged lettuce, deli meats, raw seafood and sprouted seeds,” Dr Sheppeard said.