Thurston County teen among those sickened by tainted caramel apples

A Thurston County teen was hospitalized last month after eating a prepackaged caramel apple — the same brand of caramel apples that has been linked to at least four deaths nationwide, according to Thurston County Public Health and Social Services.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued a warning not to eat the apples, the suspected source of the multistate listeria outbreak.

As of Thursday, 28 people in 10 states had been infected with the food-borne bacteria: five in Missouri, five in New Mexico, four each in Arizona, Minnesota and Texas, two in Wisconsin and one each in California, North Carolina, Utah and Washington.

Of 26 people hospitalized with listeria food poisoning, five have died, and the bacteria was a definite factor in four of the deaths, the CDC reported. Fifteen of 18 listeria patients who’ve been interviewed said they’d eaten commercially produced, packaged caramel apples before they became sick.

In Thurston County, the boy was treated for listeria at a South Sound hospital and made a full recovery, said county Public Health and Social Services Department director Don Sloma.

“The kid’s fine, no lasting effects or anything,” Sloma said.

The department only learned this week that his illness was part of a larger problem.

Marianne Remy, a public health nurse with Thurston County, said 11 to 29 cases of listeria are reported in Washington yearly, and on average, fewer than five of those cases are fatal. Most healthy people don’t even realize they’re sick.

“Usually people don’t get really sick with it unless they have some underlying condition that makes them more susceptible,” Remy said.

In minor cases, listeria causes fevers and diarrhea. In severe cases, it causes meningitis and septicemia. Listeria also can cause miscarriages.

Remy said she couldn’t elaborate on the Thurston County boy’s symptoms.

People contract listeria by eating infected foods, Remy said. Cases are usually linked to lunch meat, hot dogs and unpasteurized milk products. But they can also be caused by contaminated water and other foods.

So far, no illnesses in the current outbreak have been linked to apples that aren’t caramel-coated or prepackaged, the CDC said. Nor has caramel candy been linked to any illnesses.

The CDC is urging consumers to avoid all packaged caramel apples — including those with nuts, candy sprinkles, chocolate or other toppings — until additional information is available. Officials warn that contaminated caramel apples might still be on store shelves and in consumers’ homes since they’re a traditional fall favorite.