Aug 17 (Reuters) - A salmonella outbreak blamed on cantaloupe grown in Indiana has killed two people in Kentucky and sickened some 150 people in the past month, health officials said on Friday, urging consumers to throw away melons bought recently from the region.
The outbreak traced to the cantaloupe began in early July and has struck consumers in Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota. Indiana officials said there were about 150 cantaloupe-linked cases nationwide.
"Usually the pattern is to see outbreaks in the summer. But we're seeing about double the number of cases this year," said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh of Kentucky's Department for Public Health.
The illness caused by the food-borne organism usually causes a week-long bout of diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain, but can be fatal for the elderly, young children and people with weakened immune systems. Thousands of Americans contract salmonella illness each year, often from uncooked chicken.
Officials in the three states said they were trying to identify distributors and retail outlets selling the affected cantaloupes, but Indiana and Kentucky officials urged consumers to toss out any of the melons bought recently.
Salmonella strains found in two cantaloupes from southwestern Indiana had the same genetic makeup as those causing a cluster of illnesses in Kentucky, Humbaugh said.
Watermelons from the region were also being investigated as another possible source of a smaller salmonella outbreak, he said.
The current salmonella outbreak comes after cantaloupe tainted with Listeria and traced to a Colorado farm killed 30 people across 11 states last year in the deadliest U.S. food borne outbreak in over a decade. (Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)
The Kentucky Department of Public Health warned people not to eat the cantaloupes. Tests found the fruit carried the same strain of salmonella that has killed two and sickened more than 50 in Kentucky.
Salmonella infections result in diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Most people recover without treatment, but severe infections can occur in infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says 31 have been hospitalized in this outbreak that has hit 20 states.