Epidemic listeriosis associated with Mexican-style cheese

N Engl J Med. 1988 Sep 29;319(13):823-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198809293191303.


In Los Angeles County, California, 142 cases of human listeriosis were reported from January 1 through August 15, 1985. Ninety-three cases (65.5 percent) occurred in pregnant women or their offspring, and 49 (34.5 percent) in nonpregnant adults. There were 48 deaths: 20 fetuses, 10 neonates, and 18 nonpregnant adults. Of the nonpregnant adults, 98 percent (48 of 49) had a known predisposing condition. Eighty-seven percent (81 of 93) of the maternal/neonatal cases were Hispanic. Of the Listeria monocytogenes isolates available for study, 82 percent (86 of 105) were serotype 4b, of which 63 of 86 (73 percent) were the same phage type. A case-control study implicated Mexican-style soft cheese (odds ratio, 5.5; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.2 to 24.8) as the vehicle of infection; a second case-control study showed an association with one brand (Brand A) of Mexican-style soft cheese (odds ratio, 8.5; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.4 to 26.2). Laboratory study confirmed the presence of L. monocytogenes serogroup 4b of the epidemic phage type in Brand A Mexican-style cheese. In mid-June, all Brand A cheese was recalled and the factory was closed. An investigation of the cheese plant suggested that the cheese was commonly contaminated with unpasteurized milk. We conclude that the epidemic of listeriosis was caused by ingestion of Brand A cheese contaminated by one phage type of L. monocytogenes serotype 4b.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • California
  • Cheese*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Listeria monocytogenes / isolation & purification
  • Listeriosis / epidemiology
  • Listeriosis / transmission*
  • Mexico / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / transmission