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Prepackaged caramel apples linked to 5 deaths, several illnesses

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Health officials are warning consumers to avoid prepackaged caramel apples after they were linked to five deaths and more than two dozen illnesses in 10 states.

The CDC says it knows of 28 cases in which people were sickened with the same strains of the bacterial illness listeria, with 26 of them hospitalized. Of those who were hospitalized, five died. The CDC said listeriosis contributed to at least four of the deaths.

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The agency said interviews showed that 83 percent of those sickened reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before falling ill.

Three cases of meningitis linked to the listeria were also reported in children, the CDC said. The three children were not among those who died.

Those who fell ill got sick between Oct. 17 and Nov. 27. CDC said it's possible other illnesses have occurred since then. Christopher Braden of the CDC said the agency is still trying to determine the specific brands that were involved.

Two of the deaths were in Minnesota and one was in Texas, according to the CDC. The agency was not able to say where the other two deaths occurred.

The CDC said the illnesses also occurred in Arizona, California, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Supporters of Brittany Maynard release birthday video

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Nearly three weeks after her death, on what would have been her 30th birthday, Brittany Maynard returned to the national spotlight on Wednesday in a video in which she urges states to pass laws allowing terminally ill people to end their lives on their own terms.

The video, made in August, was released by an advocacy group that worked with Maynard during the last months of her life in a campaign that prompted a national debate about allowing terminally ill people to hasten their deaths.

The group, Compassion & Choices, is hoping that the practice will be expanded beyond the five that already allow it: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. But even though Maynard's story received national attention, the groundswell of support on a legislative level for laws like Oregon's has yet to materialize.

Compassion & Choices held a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, hoping to build on the momentum generated for the movement while Maynard was alive. After the news conference, the organization released a video that is partly narrated by Maynard.

In the video, Maynard says: "I hope for the sake of other American citizens ... that I'm speaking to that I've never met, that I'll never meet, that this choice be extended to you."

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>> Right-to-die advocate's mom blasts Vatican remarks

>> Social media reaction to the death of Brittany Maynard

>> Brittany Maynard, woman with terminal brain cancer, ends her own life

The video includes photographs of Maynard before her illness. It also features the voices of other terminally ill patients and their family members.

In the conference call, Compassion & Choices officials said legislators in about a dozen states plan to introduce right-to-die laws next year.

Also on the call were legislators from Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Pennsylvania Democrat whose 63-year-old father died of the same type of brain cancer as Maynard, said the young woman's campaign and his family's situation made it apparent why such bills are needed.

"I had to watch my father die of cancer... It was the most gut-wrenching experience our family and he had to endure," Rozzi said. "He would always tell me this is not the way he wanted to live."

A "death-with-dignity" bill was introduced in Pennsylvania last month. Rozzi conceded that it has been difficult getting bills out of the judiciary committee when they are opposed by the state's Catholic leadership.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, a Wyoming Republican, said he plans to introduce such legislation in his state.

Oregon was the first state to allow terminally ill patients to die using lethal medications prescribed by a doctor. Maynard moved from California to Oregon to make use of the Oregon law.

The New Jersey Assembly passed a bill last week that would allow physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, with some legislators citing Maynard's story as a deciding factor in their vote. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie has said he opposes the measure.

In California, the West Hollywood City Council this week passed a resolution that urges the Los Angeles County District Attorney to not prosecute physicians and family members who offer aid in dying to the terminally ill. But the state has no current bills or ballot measures on the issue.

Some religious groups and social conservatives, including a Vatican official and the American Life League, have heavily criticized Maynard's decision. Pope Francis denounced the right-to-die movement Saturday, saying the practice is a sin against God and creation and provides a "false sense of compassion." He didn't refer specifically to Maynard's case.

Compassion & Choices said its website has had more than 5 million unique visitors during the past month, while Maynard's two previous videos have been viewed more than 13 million times on YouTube alone.

"I sense immense momentum right now," said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices. "Brittany Maynard is a new voice for a new generation of activists ... she devoted her precious energy to help ensure other dying Americans would have a choice."

Brittany Maynard, woman with terminal brain cancer, ends her own life

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Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who weeks ago announced plans to end her life, reportedly died Saturday. 

Maynard was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma last spring and told she had six months left to live. She then decided to move to Oregon with her husband and mother to utilize Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. (Video via Compassion & Choices)

>> Social media reaction to the death of Brittany Maynard

She eventually started an online video campaign for Compassion & Choices with the intent of expanding death with dignity laws nationwide. A spokesman from that group confirmed her death Sunday evening. 

Now, People quotes a post from Maynard's Facebook that reads: "Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. ... Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!"

>> Previously: Terminally ill woman says now 'doesn't seem like the right time' to die

Brittany Maynard: "My goal of course is to influence this policy for positive change. I would like to see all Americans have access to the same health care rights."

Her movement started a conversation nationwide about dying in America and some media outlets point to a shift in national opinion.

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A social medical expert writes in The Washington Post, "We are beginning to focus on what patients want, on their right to self-determination. And people are increasingly asking why anyone — the state, the medical profession, religious leaders — would presume to tell someone else that they must continue to die by inches, against their will."

Five states in the U.S. have legislation in place that allows physicians to help patients end their lives in some circumstances. 

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