Texas Listeria Outbreak Leads to Tyson Chicken Recall

Dr. Jeff Livingston

Quick CDC action may have prevented a more widespread outbreak.

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Tyson Chicken processing plant.Photo J. Michael Jones Istock/Getty Images

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced a recall of over 8 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken after a Listeria outbreak in Texas. A public health surveillance system detected the cases early preventing a further outbreak.

Two Texas residents, who reside in long-term care facilities, contracted Listeriosis. The infections were traced back to contaminated chicken products from Tyson Food Inc, prompting a Food Safety Alert.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria found in soil and water. Cattle and poultry can carry the bacteria, which causes a severe type of food poisoning in humans. Listeria accounts for only 1 percent of reported bacterial food-borne infections, but these cases can be fatal when not treated with appropriate antibiotics.

The CDC reports approximately 1,600 people contract Listeriosis each year in the United States, leading to 260 deaths.

The US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service compared samples from Tyson Food Inc with those of the infected Texas patients. The bacterial strains from the two patients were a match indicating a shared original source.

Public health agencies traced their exposure to chicken products stating "two precooked chicken samples from two establishments that are closely related genetically to Listeria monocytogenes from ill people." Listeriosis was found in fully cooked chicken products marketed under brands such as Tyson, Jet's Pizza, Casey's General Store, Marco's Pizza, and Little Caesars.

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Listeriosis outbreak.Map CC Center for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC and public health agencies can respond quickly to listeriosis outbreaks because of the Whole Genome Sequencing Project. This early detection tool helps identify infectious disease public health threats before they can spread.

When someone tests positive for Listeriosis, scientists genetically sequence the entire strain of bacteria. When two patients test positive for the same strain, public health officials can search for the source causing the infections.

According to the CDC, the Whole Genome Sequencing Project allows scientists to:

  • Detect early clusters of Listeria infections
  • Link cases of Listeria to a likely source
  • Identify unrecognized sources of Listeria
  • Stop Listeria outbreaks while they are still small

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CDC Whole Genome Sequencing Project.Infographic CC Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Listeriosis is a potentially life-threatening infection when people eat food contaminated by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Most people who contract Listeriosis have a mild illness, but those with suppressed immune systems or over age 65 can become very sick.

Patients with autoimmune diseases, HIV, cancer, or transplants are at increased risk. The infection can spread to the bloodstream causing sepsis or to the brain, causing meningitis or encephalitis.

The symptoms of Listeria can arise days to weeks after exposure. Common symptoms are similar to the flu, including fever, chills, muscle aches, and diarrhea. Some may develop more concerning symptoms such as headaches, a stiff neck, or confusion.

Listeriosis is especially concerning during pregnancy. Pregnant women are at a much higher risk of getting sick from Listeriosis. Pregnant women who contract Listeriosis generally have a mild illness, but the disease has been linked to miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm labor.

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Placenta anatomy.infographic SergeyVasutin Istock/Getty Images

Listeriosis can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby through the placenta. The placenta is the organ inside the uterus that keeps the baby alive. Maternal blood circulates through this internal filtration system. The growing baby receives oxygen and nutrients from the mother, and the placenta removes carbon dioxide and waste products. 

The placenta is also the defense system against invading infections like bacteria and viruses. Placental immune system cells called trophoblasts are the first line of defense against any invading organisms.

Most infectious invaders do not make it across the placental defense system. Trophoblasts stop them in their tracks. Listeriosis can cross the placental barrier leading to infections in the baby. Listeriosis can cause intellectual disability, paralysis, seizures, and blindness. Infected babies may develop problems in the brain, kidneys, and heart.

The CDC Food Safety Alert linked this listeria outbreak to fully cooked chicken supplied by Tyson Food Inc recalling products "shipped nationwide to retailers and institutions including hospitals, nursing facilities, restaurants, schools and Department of Defense locations."

The products affected include:

  • Fully cooked chicken strips
  • Diced chicken,
  • Chicken wing sections
  • Fully cooked pizza with chicken.

The US Food and Drug Administration offers this helpful video to help families learn about preventing foodborne illnesses.

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Dr. Jeff Livingston is nationally recognized thought leader, speaker, writer, blogger and practicing physician who is considered an expert in the use of social media to educate patients, using new and innovative technology to improve care outcomes and the patient experience. He is a prating Obgyn and serves as the CEO of MacArthur Medical Center. Dr. Jeff is the co-founder of the health website Medika.life and an active blogger on Medium.

Irving, TX
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