SARASOTA, Fla. — Health officials are investigating after 23 people in 10 states fell ill, including an Illinois resident that died.

The Florida Department of Health, CDC, public health and regulatory officials and the FDA are investigating after 23 people have gotten sick from Listeria monocytogenes. Here’s what we know about the status of the investigation, and what may be behind the illnesses.

What is Listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause the serious infection Listeriosis. It can also cause common food poisoning symptoms.

The CDC says around 1,600 people get listeriosis every year, resulting in about 260 deaths. It is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms of invasive listeriosis?

Invasive listeriosis happens when the bacteria spread beyond the gut to other parts of the body. Symptoms usually start within two weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria.

Symptoms in pregnant people are usually mild. However, the CDC says infection during pregnancy usually leads to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

Symptoms in non-pregnant people can be severe, The CDC says almost one in 20 non-pregnant people with invasive listeriosis die.

Symptoms in people who are pregnant

  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue

Symptoms in people who are not pregnant

  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • confusion
  • loss of balance
  • seizures

Where have the illnesses been reported?

Most of the people that got sick live in Florida. However, the CDC says eight people traveled to Florida in the month before getting sick. However, the significance of this has not been confirmed.

Of the people who have gotten sick, 22 people have been hospitalized, and one death has been reported in Illinois. Five pregnant people got sick, resulting in the loss of one of the pregnancies.

When did people get sick?

The CDC says symptoms of severe illness usually start within two weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria but can start as early as the same day or as late as 70 days after. In this outbreak, illnesses have been reported as far back as January 2021.

The CDC says recent illnesses may not be reported, as it usually takes three to four weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak. The true number of people involved in this outbreak is likely higher than the reported amount, as some people recover without medical care and are not tested.

What is the source of the infections?

While health officials are still trying to determine the exact source of the infections, it has been linked to ice cream. Of the 17 people that health officials interviewed about the foods they ate in the month before getting sick, 14 reported eating ice cream.

Only 13 people remembered details about the type of ice cream they ate. Six of those reported eating Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream, or eating ice cream at locations that might have been supplied by the company.

This ice cream was only sold in Florida. In a statement, Big Olaf Creamery said while the company is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, “it is only speculation” that their ice cream is the culprit.

Regarding the investigation for possible listeria contamination:

For now it is only speculation as it is an ongoing investigation, our brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases. I am not sure why only Big Olaf is being mentioned and targeted. The original report we got from the Florida Department of Health on Friday, July 1st, was that there are 23 cases reported, the first one reported was January 2022. 6 out of the 23 patients mentioned having consumed Big Olaf ice cream, but nothing has been proven. We have been cooperating with the Florida Department of Health, FDACS, and the FDA as soon as we were informed about the situation. We have been transparent and have answered all their questions and provided them with all the information requested from us, as the health and wellbeing of the public is our first priority.

– Big Olaf Creamery via Instagram

The CDC says public health investigators are using a system that manages a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. This same method was used to identify the source of the Jif peanut butter Salmonella outbreak.

The investigation showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically. The CDC says this means people in the outbreak likely got sick from the same food.

What is being done to prevent infections?

While no recalls have been issued yet, Big Olaf Creamery is voluntarily contacting retail locations to recommend against selling its ice cream products.

The CDC recommends that people with the company’s products at home throw away any remaining products People should also clean any areas, containers, and serving utensils that may have touched the ice cream products.

Businesses should clean and disinfect any areas and equipment that may have touched the company’s products, including ice cream scoops and other serving utensils.

The investigation into the infections remains ongoing as of the time of this report. health officials are collecting different types of data to try to pin down the source of the infections.

Until health officials learn more, the CDC is advising people at higher risks for severe Listeria illness to contact their healthcare provider if they have any symptoms. Healthcare providers should report any listeriosis illnesses to their health department.