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Mystery Shrouds Deadly Bacteria

When Mary Jo Kinard first got sick last fall, her family thought it was nothing more than a bad flu.

"She was running 103 fever and she continued to lay in that bed a week, a week and a half, and I said, 'You gotta go to a doctor'," said her husband, Jack.

It was around the same time that Helen Bodner became ill. Like Mary Jo Kinard, she ended up in intensive care.

"Her stomach was twice, three times the size it should have been," said John Bodner of his wife's illness.

Although Jack Kinard and John Bodner live just a mile apart on Memphis' east side, they didn't know each other. And it wasn't until weeks after their wives died last fall that they discovered they had something in common.

Their wives had died of listeria, a potentially deadly bacteria they had ingested in their Ball Park hot dogs. Both men now are part of a class action lawsuit against Sara Lee, manufacturer of the frankfurters.

"I picked up a USA Today newspaper and it had a big write-up there about a recall of Sara Lee meats," said Kinard, "and I went to the cashier in the grocery store and I said, 'That's what killed my wife.'"

The Bodners, too, liked their Sara Lee Ball Park hot dogs. John's meticulous diary even pinpoints the date. The entry for Saturday, Aug. 22, reads: "We ate shrimp and a hot dog and some Polish sausage sandwiches."

The hot dogs in question had come from a meat-processing plant in Zeeland, Mich., owned by Sara Lee. They were found to be carrying listeria, a rare bacteria that has now been blamed for 11 deaths and three miscarriages.

For most healthy adults, listeria is nothing but a bad case of stomach flu. It passes without consequence. It's only when it hits the elderly, infants, pregnant women, or people with chronic illnesses that it can lead to meningitis and death.

Sara Lee has apologized, shut down production, and recalled a million pounds of hot dogs and deli meats. It says it has been unable to pinpoint the source of the bacteria.

Bodner says someone must "tell these companies to prepare their food properly and not have it contaminated so somebody else would not have to go through what Helen went through."