Spain has issued an international alert after the number affected by the country’s biggest ever listeria outbreak rose to 150.
A 90-year-old woman has been killed by the infection as the health ministry said it was checking another 523 suspected cases of listeriosis.
The spread has sparked fears in Spain, which is visited by around 80 million tourists a year.
Listeriosis is usually caught from eating food containing listeria bacteria.
It can be found in many types of food but is mainly a problem with unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses and chilled ready-to-eat snacks like pre-packed sandwiches.
Most confirmed cases in Spain have been recorded in the southern region of Andalusia, where a packaged pork plant linked to the outbreak is situated.
But there have been other cases as far away as Catalonia in the northeast, where around 50 people remain in hospital.
José Miguel Cisneros, director of the infectious disease department at Seville’s Virgen del Rocío Hospital, announced on Tuesday the first casualty since the outbreak was declared on 15 August.
Mr Cisneros said roughly half of the 114 people affected by the bacteria remain hospitalised.
Listeria usually causes mild illness but can be dangerous to pregnant women, 23 of whom are among those still in hospital.
It is also more dangerous to those with weakened immune systems.
Spain’s health ministry has issued alerts to EU authorities and the World Health Organization over the outbreak.
The plant in question, owned by Seville-based Magrudis, was inspected by health authorities after lab tests showed the presence of listeria in one of its products.
Authorities have closed the pork meat supplier’s plant and recalled all of its products.
The company has not responded to requests for comment.
Maria Luisa Carcedo, acting health health minister, said: “Obviously there was a failure to follow the established procedures.
“Now we need to carry out the inspections and investigations to figure out exactly where this failure took place.”
In recent months, six people have been killed in a listeria outbreak in the UK after eating contaminated hospital food.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock ordered a root and branch review of NHS food in June after the first five patient deaths.
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(Main) Listeria bacteria © Getty Images / BSIP (Bottom left) An NHS logo © Reuters / Neil Hall
A sixth person has died from listeria after eating contaminated NHS sandwiches, as Public Health England (PHE) continues an inquiry into whether more people have died from the outbreak.
The victim, who was one of nine previously confirmed cases that had contracted the severe disease, “acquired listeriosis from Good Food Chain products,” while at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, a Public Health England spokesman confirmed.
In June, public health officials revealed that five listeria-infected patients had died, and nine more were seriously ill after eating food in NHS hospitals containing the deadly bacteria. Officials have confirmed that they are testing all samples of listeria on a regular basis to check if they are linked to this outbreak.
What is listeria?
Listeria is a bacteria that can cause a severe disease in humans, but normally only affects individuals who don’t have a strong immune system. It is caught by eating contaminated food.
Where is it commonly picked up from?
This type of bacteria is killed if food is cooked, so the infection is usually caused by ready-to-eat food – such as sandwiches – that become contaminated. It’s found in soil so can come from herbs and salads, but it also regularly contaminates cured meats, soft cheeses, pates, and vegetables.
43 out of the 135 NHS trusts were supplied by The Good Food Chain and they have been placed on alert for cases of listeria, which can lead to sepsis and meningitis. It can cause pregnant women to miscarry, and can also be passed to unborn children.
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Two more hospital patients have died after eating pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked to an outbreak of listeria.
It takes the number of deaths to five, among nine cases in all of the bacteria infecting patients, Public Health England (PHE) said.
The source of the infection is understood to relate to products supplied by The Good Food Chain and the affected ones have since been removed from hospitals.
PHE said evidence suggests all of those who died consumed the products before the withdrawal happened on 25 May.
The first three confirmed victims were at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool.
It is not yet known where the latest two victims were receiving treatment, but PHE said there are seven trusts across the country dealing with listeria cases.
One is believed to have died after the first three confirmed cases, while the other died before.
The first case showed symptoms on 25 April and sandwiches and salads were withdrawn on 25 May.
It is understood that some of the products were sold at hospitals while others were given to patients.
The supplier, The Good Food Chain, meat producer North Country Cooked Meats and distributor North Country Quality Foods have voluntarily ceased production during the investigation.
PHE said: “Whilst any risk to the public remains low, PHE’s Whole Genome Sequencing analysis has identified an additional three cases of listeria linked to this outbreak.
“This brings the total number of confirmed cases to nine. All of the cases of listeria infection were in hospital patients in England.
“Sadly, one of the seriously ill six patients PHE confirmed last week has since died.
“One of the patients confirmed today as linked to the outbreak had already died. This brings the number of deaths linked to this outbreak to five.”
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director at the national infection service at PHE, said: “To date, there have been no patients linked to this incident outside healthcare organisations, but we continue to investigate.
The Good Food Chain said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families of those who have died and anyone else who has been affected by this outbreak. The underlying cause of it remains unclear.
“For our part, we are co-operating fully and transparently with the FSA (Food Standards Agency) and other authorities, and will continue to do so”.
Listeria bacteria can cause listeriosis – a form of food poisoning – and can be found in unpasteurised milk and chilled foods, such as pate, certain cheeses, cold meats and smoked salmon.
It is usually not dangerous for healthy individuals, but can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
But for people with pre-existing health conditions and weaker immune systems, the infection can prove more serious.
It is most likely to be found in pregnant women, young babies and the elderly.
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