The current listeria outbreak that has been traced to contaminated cantaloupe has been linked to at least 100 illnesses and 18 deaths in 20 states across the U.S. The outbreak has also led to at least one miscarriage. Several wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits have already been filed in the case.

Listeria does not make everyone sick who eats food contaminated with it, but is more likely to cause illness in older people and people with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women. The average age so far of someone sickened by listeria in the current outbreak is 79.

The woman who suffered the miscarriage recently became ill after eating contaminated cantaloupe a few weeks ago. Listeria can incubate in the body for up to two months before causing a person to fall ill. Pregnant woman can become seriously ill and suffer nausea, fever, muscle aches and diarrhea.

The current outbreak is the deadliest food poisoning incident in more than 10 years. In 1985, 52 people died after eating Mexican-style cheese that was contaminated with listeria. In that death toll were included 13 stillborn babies. In 2002, eight people died from turkey deli meat that contained listeria, which included three stillbirths.

Women who are pregnant should avoid food products that commonly contain listeria, such as deli meat, unpasteurized cheeses and hot dogs. The bacteria, however, can be hard to avoid altogether. An outbreak has not originated in cantaloupe before.

People who believe they may have bought one of the “Rocky Ford” cantaloupes in the last two months should sanitize surfaces that the cantaloupe may have touched, including in their refrigerator because the bacteria can live in cold temperatures.

Source: msnbc.com, “Woman’s miscarriage blamed on listeria-tainted cantaloupe,” JoNel Aleccia, Oct. 5, 2011