Urgent alert after hospital sandwiches linked with three deaths

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"Our thoughts are with the families of those patients who have died", Nick Phin, the deputy director at the UK's National Infection Service at Public Health England, said in the statement.

The cases of listeria infection were in six seriously-ill hospital patients in England, three of whom died.

Three hospital patients have died in England following an outbreak of the killer bug listeria - which as been linked to pre-packed sandwiches - Public Health England has confirmed.

The supplier, The Good Food Chain, and one of its cooked meat suppliers, North Country Cooked Meats, have voluntarily ceased production while the investigation continues.

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The company said its "products are handmade, using fresh ingredients and has been accredited by industry standard rewards".

PHE said the health risk to the public remains low and individuals should only seek medical attention if they develop symptoms.

Dr Colin Sullivan, chief operating officer at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is helping with the investigation, said: "Our sympathies are with the families of those patients who have tragically passed away". An average of 46 deaths per year due to Listeria were reported between 2010 and 2016. We have taken action along with local authorities to minimise the risk based on the evidence so far.

Listeria is a bacteria that causes illness from contaminated food.

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"The FSA will continue to investigate how the outbreak occurred and if further steps are required to protect vulnerable groups", he added.

The patients died of listeriosis, a rare bacterial infection that is especially risky for people with weak immune systems or pregnant women.

Sometimes the infection can also affect the nervous system, which causes headaches, confusion, stiff neck, tremors and convulsions, and a loss of balance.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said it was "likely" the extent of the outbreak has been underestimated.

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Sandwiches and salads were withdrawn on May 25, as soon as a link with the cases was suspected.