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New York City Seal
Press Release
NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Office of Communications
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin/Greg Butler
Monday, September 16, 2002
(212) 788-5290
(877) 640-1347


Pregnant Women, Persons with Weakened Immune Systems, and Individuals Over 60 Years of Age, are Advised to Avoid Soft Cheeses, Deli Meats, and Thoroughly Cook Ready-to-Eat Foods

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) reported today that it is collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and regional Health Departments to investigate a series of Listeria infections in the region, including cases among New York City residents. It is believed that the infections are related to a multistate outbreak of listeriosis that has affected five states throughout the Midwest and Northeast, and was first identified in Pennsylvania. On September 6, DOHMH officials notified CDC of a potential cluster of listeriosis within the City. DNA test results have shown that eight listeriosis cases in New York City, including two deaths of individuals with compromised immune systems, are of the same strain as the Pennsylvania cases. Of the six surviving patients, two remain hospitalized in stable condition and four have been discharged. A common source of illness has not yet been identified.

Listeriosis is a food-borne illness that can cause stillbirths among pregnant women, and potentially fatal outcomes (meningitis or septicemia) in newborns, persons over 60 years of age, and those with compromised immune systems. Healthy individuals who are infected with Listeria may experience mild symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea.

DOHMH Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said, "For most people, listeriosis causes mild or unnoticeable symptoms. However, those at highest risk of developing serious complications – persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and those over 60 years of age – can take simple measures to protect themselves. In addition to following basic food handling practices, these persons are advised not to eat uncooked hot dogs, luncheon meats, refrigerated ptés, or soft cheeses as these products have been associated with listeriosis outbreaks in the past."

Dr. Frieden also noted that those with cancer (or currently receiving chemotherapy), kidney disease, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS and persons taking glucocorticosteroid medications should take precautions against listeriosis as well.

Recommendations for Preventing Listeria

Basic measures to prevent food-borne illness, such as washing and cooking food thoroughly, keeping uncooked meats separate from vegetables and ready-to-eat foods, avoiding unpasteurized milk, and thoroughly washing all utensils before and after use can help prevent the spread of listeria. Those at high-risk of developing serious illness from listeriosis, however, are advised to take additional precautions, including:

  • Avoid hot dogs and luncheon meats – including deli meats – unless they are re-heated until steaming hot.
  • Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican style cheeses such as "queso blanco fresco." These cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk, which can contain the listeria bacteria. (Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt need not be avoided).
  • Avoid refrigerated ptés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable ptés and meat spreads may be eaten.

Information on Listeriosis

Listeriosis is caused by bacteria that are commonly found in soil, water, and animal feed. Outbreaks of the disease have been associated with unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, contaminated vegetables, and ready-to-eat meats. In New York City, recent outbreaks have been attributed to hot-dogs, turkey meat, and refrigerated pté. Listeriosis is not spread through casual contact. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, abdominal pains, nausea, and diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions may occur. In large outbreaks, symptoms have developed between three and 70 days, but in most instances, symptoms develop within a month. For those with compromised immune systems, as many as 1 in 5 persons die from the infection.

New York City typically reports between 30 and 50 listeria cases each year. Thus far in 2002, there have been 26 listeriosis cases reported.

Listeriosis Cases Reported to NYC DOHMH 1998-2002*

Cases in NYC

* - Includes through 8/2002

For more information on listeriosis, please visit DOHMH's website at, or CDC's website at