Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health reports that it is working with Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Thurston County Public Health and Social Services to investigate 5 cases of the foodborne illness listeriosis in Western Washington. Marler Clark has been retained by the family of one of the victims in this outbreak. 

Four of the cases are in Pierce County. One is in Thurston County. All 5 patients were hospitalized and 3 died. All the cases were in patients with weakened immune systems in their 60s or 70s.

Genetic fingerprinting results (whole genome sequencing) indicate that these patients likely have the same source of infection. Patients became ill between February 27 and June 30, 2023.

Investigators are interviewing patients or their proxies to help identify any common exposures.

What is Listeria?

Listeria is a bacterium that causes a serious infection called listeriosis. Around 300 deaths in the United States are caused by Listeria infection each year, according to estimates from a 2011 CDC report. 

Listeria bacteria are most found in raw foods. Vegetables can be contaminated by soil and water carrying bacteria. Listeria is also found in raw animal products, such as meat and cheese. 

Babies can be born with Listeria if the mother eats contaminated food during pregnancy. The death rate among newborns with Listeria is 25 to 50 percent. 

Who is most likely to get seriously ill from Listeria bacteria?

Healthy adults and children hardly ever become seriously ill from Listeria. However, people at increased risk of illness from Listeria bacteria include:

  • Pregnant women – Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than the average healthy adult
  • Newborns
  • People with weak immune systems
  • People with cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • People with AIDS – People with AIDS are 300 times more likely to get sick from Listeria than people with normal immune systems
  • People who take gluticocorticosteroids, such as cortisone
  • Elderly people

Symptoms of Listeria

Listeria symptoms appear anywhere between 3 and 70 days after infection, but usually around 21 days later. Typical symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea or diarrhea (less common)

If infection spreads to the central nervous system, symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions

Symptoms for those with Weakened Immune Systems

If a patient has a weak immune system, Listeria bacteria can invade the central nervous system and cause meningitis or a brain infection. 

Symptoms for Pregnant Women and Newborns

Infected pregnant woman experience mild, flu-like symptoms. However, infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, infection of the newborn, or stillbirth. Symptoms usually appear in newborns in the first week of life but can also occur later on. A newborn’s Listeria symptoms are often subtle, and include irritability, fever, and poor feeding.

Diagnosis of Listeria

Doctors can determine whether patients have listeriosis by taking a blood or spinal fluid sample.

Treatment of Listeria

Patients who present with symptoms of listeriosis can be treated with antibiotics.

How to Prevent Listeria

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry
  • Wash raw vegetables before eating them
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and cooked foods 
  • Avoid products made with unpasteurized milk
  • Wash hands and cooking utensils after handling uncooked foods
  • Consume perishable and read-to-eat foods as soon as possible

Foods to Avoid

  • Do not eat hot dogs or lunch meats unless they are heated to a temperature sufficient to kill Listeria bacteria
  • Avoid getting liquid from hot dog packages on other food
  • Wash hands after handling hot dogs and lunch and deli meats
  • Do not eat soft cheeses (e.g., feta, Brie, Camembert, blue cheese, and queso blanco) unless the label clearly states that they are pasteurized
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spread, only canned or shelf-stable ones
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, sometimes labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” or “jerky.” Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood is ok

Additional Resources:

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Listeria outbreaks. The Listeria lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Listeria and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $850 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Listeria lawyers have litigated Listeria cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as lettuce, polony, deli meat, cantaloupe, cheese, celery and milk. 

If you or a family member became ill with a Listeria infection after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Listeria attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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Photo of Drew Falkenstein Drew Falkenstein

Drew Falkenstein joined Marler Clark in January, 2004 and has concentrated his practice in representing victims of foodborne illness. He has litigated nationwide against some of the biggest food corporations in the world, including Dole, Kellogg’s, and McDonald’s.  He has worked on landmark…

Drew Falkenstein joined Marler Clark in January, 2004 and has concentrated his practice in representing victims of foodborne illness. He has litigated nationwide against some of the biggest food corporations in the world, including Dole, Kellogg’s, and McDonald’s.  He has worked on landmark cases that have helped shape food safety policy, HACCP protocol, and consumer rights, such as the E. coli outbreak in fresh spinach in 2006 and the 2008 Peanut Corporation of America outbreak of Salmonella. A frequent speaker for the not-for-profit organization Outbreak, Inc, Mr. Falkenstein travels the country to address public and environmental health organizations as well as food safety meetings and annual educational conferences.  He speaks on the intersection of law and public health, and addresses companies on how to prevent food borne illness outbreaks.