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Federal officials add new case to listeria toll

The death of a Quebec man in January due to listeriosis from an unknown source has been added to the official toll of deaths from last summer’s listeria outbreak.

The Public Health Agency of Canada on Friday “determined that this case meets the criteria established for last year’s outbreak to be considered a confirmed case.”

The strain of listeriosis from this new case matches the 2008 outbreak strain, the agency said, and the timing of the illness fell within the incubation timeline of the outbreak.

But none of the agencies that investigated the man’s death have found any hard link between his illness and deli meats shipped last summer from a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant in Toronto.

The listeriosis outbreak that began last August involved a specific listeria strain in prepared meats that sickened 56 other people in seven provinces, including four others in Quebec, and was tracked to Maple Leaf’s Bartor Road plant No. 97B.

Among those 56 other cases, the listeria strain in question was ruled to be the “underlying or contributing cause” in the deaths of 20 other people, including one other person in Quebec.

Maple Leaf responded by launching a major and well-publicized product recall that crossed over into other food brands using product from the facility. The Toronto plant was shut down Aug. 20 and has since been cleaned and resumed production.

Quebec’s provincial health ministry had previously reported the case, in an individual who became ill last November and died in January 2009. Earlier media reports linking his death to last summer’s outbreak were later corrected.

Even though federal officials now consider the man’s death to be part of the 2008 outbreak, bringing the total number of related deaths to 21, the source of his infection “could not be confirmed,” the agency said.

“Determining with certainty what the individual ate last year was not possible,” the agency said, noting that local health authorities in Quebec had conducted the follow-up to determine the cause of illness.

There are between 100 and 140 cases of listeriosis reported in Canada each year, the agency said. For most people, the risk posed by listeria is very low and healthy people exposed to it are rarely affected. Elderly people, pregnant women, infants and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to suffer from listeriosis symptoms.

CBC reported March 5 that the man who died in January of listeriosis was 75 years old.

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