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5 now dead in cantaloupe salmonella outbreak as Canadian cases nearly double

Cut cantaloupe is pictured at a grocery store in Philadelphia on Sunday. On Thursday, U.S. and Canadian officials said more people had died in a salmonella outbreak linked to tainted cantaloupe. (Jonathan Poet/The Associated Press - image credit)
Cut cantaloupe is pictured at a grocery store in Philadelphia on Sunday. On Thursday, U.S. and Canadian officials said more people had died in a salmonella outbreak linked to tainted cantaloupe. (Jonathan Poet/The Associated Press - image credit)

Five people have now died in a salmonella outbreak linked to two brands of cantaloupe sold across Canada this fall, according to federal officials.

The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed the deaths in its latest update on Thursday, though it did not provide further details.

The outbreak, linked to contaminated Malichita or Rudy brand cantaloupe, has now sickened 129 people across six provinces — nearly double the number of cases since Dec. 1, when there was just a single reported death.

Salmonella is a bacteria commonly associated with raw or undercooked chicken, but can also be found in raw fruits and vegetables. Most people who get sick recover on their own in a few days, but the illness can be severe and lead to hospitalization.

The current outbreak has been linked to contaminated Malichita or Rudy brand cantaloupe sold in October and November.

Cases have spiked in Quebec, with 91 confirmed infections as of Thursday compared to 35 last week.

The agency said there are also 17 cases in Ontario and 15 in British Columbia, as well as two each in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Nearly half of the people who have become infected are people over 65, while another third are children under five. There have been cases in babies less than a year old and at least one adult as old as 100, the update said.

The recalled Malichita cantaloupe was sold in Canada between Oct. 11 and Nov. 14, while the Rudy brand fruit was sold from Oct. 10 and Nov. 24.

PHAC said people became sick between mid-October and mid-November, with 44 ending up in hospital. Investigators are still looking into additional infections to see whether those illnesses are connected to the cantaloupe.

"People who are infected with salmonella bacteria can spread salmonella to other people several days to several weeks after they have become infected, even if they don't have symptoms,'' the update said.

Consumers should not buy, eat or sell cantaloupe distributed by Malichita or Rudy. The agency has issued separate recalls for other types of fruit, like honeydew, pineapple, watermelon and assorted fruit trays.

"If you are unable to verify the brand of cantaloupe, or if your produce is part of the CFIA recalls, it is recommended to throw it out," PHAC said.

Officials in the United States are also investigating a salmonella outbreak linked to tainted cantaloupe. Three people in that country have died, with a total of 230 illnesses across 38 states.

PHAC said cases in both countries are being caused by the same genetic strain of salmonella bacteria.

Salmonella symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches. PHAC said people who think they are sick should contact their health-care provider.