By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Lab tests by Colorado health officials confirmed a listeria outbreak that has killed at least two people is linked to cantaloupe grown at a farm in the southeast part of the state, officials said on Friday.
Jensen Farms Inc of Holly, Colorado, which has voluntarily recalled all its melons shipped to 17 states, was named as the source. The farm is about 200 miles southeast of Denver.
The determination by Colorado health officials came one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to eat any melons raised at Jensen Farms.
Listeria monocytogenes is a virulent bacterium that can thrive at low temperatures and causes about 1,600 people in the United States to fall ill with flu-like symptoms each year, killing more than 250, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Cantaloupe samples from the refrigerator of a listeria patient's home, as well as samples obtained from various retail outlets last week, have the same DNA fingerprints as the listeria that has infected 12 Colorado residents," the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement on Friday.
"All of the listeria-positive cantaloupe samples at this time appear to have been grown at Jensen Farms."
The listeria outbreak has infected 22 people in seven states and caused two deaths, the CDC said on its website.
Listeria outbreaks are usually associated with deli meats, unpasteurized cheeses and smoked refrigerated seafood products. This is just the third outbreak of the food-borne illness traced to fresh produce, the FDA said.
Health officials warn pregnant women, people over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems not to consume items known to be linked to the bacteria.
Those infected with the gastrointestinal illness experience flu-like symptoms, and in extreme cases can suffer convulsions and miscarriages or stillbirths in pregnant women. Antibiotics are effective in treating the infection in most cases.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Bohan)