Feb. 22, 2012 at 5:09 PM ET
Five months after the first report of listeria infections tied to contaminated cantaloupe, victims of the outbreak continue to die. But just how many isn't clear.
A lawyer representing those sickened says four more people have died after lingering illnesses linked to eating the tainted fruit last summer. But officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the agency has been notified of just two more deaths tied to the outbreak. Those deaths occurred "well before" the agency's Dec. 8 "final" report, but were logged only after, said Lola Russell, a spokeswoman for the CDC.
At that time, CDC reported 30 deaths and one miscarriage related to the outbreak, part of 146 illnesses in 28 states.
The discrepancy may lie in how outbreak-related deaths are reported by state-level officials, Russell wrote in an e-mail.
"It can be unclear whether a death is directly related to infection with listeria when a patient dies many weeks or months after first becoming ill with listeria infection, especially if the patient was elderly or had serious medical conditions that also can lead to death," Lola Russell wrote. "The count of outbreak-related deaths is not final and may still change."
Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety lawyer, said that three of his clients have died in the weeks since the CDC report. They include Paul Schwarz, 92, of Kansas City, Mo.; Sharon Jones, 62, of Castle Rock, Colo.; and Mike Hauser, 68, of Monument, Colo. Dale L. Braddock, 79, of Omaha, Neb., also reportedly died after contracting a listeria infection.
Russell, of the CDC, could not provide the states where the two deaths beyond the 30 the agency has previously counted occurred.
Marler and other food safety lawyers are suing producers and distributors of the tainted fruit, including Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo., where federal inspectors found evidence that poor sanitation, poor storage practices and dirty equipment caused the deadly outbreak. Illnesses were first reported on Sept. 2; recall of the entire crop of cantaloupes soon followed.