Three people hospitalized in Texas have been infected with listeriosis likely linked to contaminated Blue Bell ice cream, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC said Thursday the listeriosis outbreak now consists of two clusters of people hospitalized in Texas and Kansas on unrelated issues who developed the infection after being served the ice cream.
According to the CDC, the Cluster 2 "consists of three patients reported from Texas during 2011 through 2014 who were all hospitalized for unrelated problems before developing listeriosis. Whole genome sequences of their Listeria monocytogenes strains were highly related to sequences of Listeria strains isolated from another Blue Bell ice cream product, 3 oz. institutional/food service chocolate ice cream cups made at the Oklahoma production facility. The cup products were recalled by Blue Bell Creameries on March 23, 2015."
Tarrant County officials confirmed to NBC 5 Thursday afternoon that one of the listeriosis cases from 2011 in their county matches the current Listeria strain, but a spokesman for the department says the patient, who has since fully recovered, claimed to not have eaten ice cream. State health officials and the CDC told NBC 5 they believe the cases are linked to the Blue Bell recall.
“They'll look at the DNA of the bacteria, and they'll plug it into a huge database they have that will try to match the DNA that's in the bacteria causing this outbreak with any other listeria outbreak that have happened,” explained Dr. Seema Yasmin, medical expert for The Dallas Morning News. “There is always a potential there could be more cases. Absolutely the most important thing is raise awareness."
The Blue Bell ice cream now available on store shelves across North Texas has been made at the Brenham facility, and it is believed to be safe to consume.
"Our prayers and sympathies are with the families who have lost loved ones or who have suffered illnesses that may have been complicated by listeriosis," the company said in a statement Thursday. "The fact that our products may be linked to these events is very distressing to us. We are sorry for this news and we are doing everything possible to determine the cause of the outbreak."
Company officials said they're working with federal health inspectors to resolve the matter.
Recent testing of product samples from the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, production facility found listeria strains in a pint of banana pudding ice cream, a product that was not included in the previous recalls.
Blue Bell has asked retailers to remove all products produced at the Oklahoma facility between Feb. 12 and March 27. Blue Bell products made at the Oklahoma facility can be identified by checking for the letters “O,” “P,” “Q,” “R,” “S” and “T” following the "code date" printed on the bottom of the product package.
Blue Bell is also recalling seven other products made at the Oklahoma plant, including individually-wrapped Sour Pop Green Apple Bars, Cotton Candy Bars, Almond Bars, Vanilla Stick Slices and No Sugar Added Mooo Bars.
The Oklahoma production facility is currently closed while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigates.
Preliminary tests indicate another three people hospitalized at some point from 2010 to 2012 appear to have a similar strain of listeria as the others, according to the CDC, but further testing is necessary before confirming a connection.
Listeria is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, the CDC said. The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with immune systems weakened by cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions. The Texas Rangers baseball club said Wednesday that they won't offer Blue Bell at their upcoming homestand against the Houston Astros. The Astros previously said Blue Bell wouldn't be offered on their opening day earlier this week. Large retailers such as Wal-Mart have in recent weeks either pulled the items included in the recalls or removed all Blue Bell products from their shelves.
In addition to the eight hospitalized people who contracted listeria, the CDC said bacteria may have contributed to the deaths of three people hospitalized in Kansas.
NBC 5's Ray Villeda contributed to this report.