The deaths – along with at least four more in Austria – occurred over several months. But authorities have only just established the link with two cheeses, “Reinhardshof, Harzer Käse, 200g” and “Reinhardshof, Bauernkäse mit Edelschimmel, 200g”, both made by the Austrian firm Prolactal.
The cheeses have already been pulled off the shelves by discount retailer Lidl in Germany after unacceptable levels of the bacterium listeria monocytogenes were first detected last month.
“An official at the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety has painstakingly investigated the grocery lists of the people who fell ill,” said a spokesman for the Austrian Health Ministry in Vienna.
The ministry is working with Germany’s Robert Koch Institute to establish the precise number of people affected.
Infection by the bacteria, listeria, causes flu-like symptoms that can lead to meningitis – an infection of the brain lining – and in extreme cases to death.
About 12 more people became sick after eating the cheese, four of them in Germany.
A Prolactal spokeswoman said on Tuesday the firm was “deeply concerned, even if we don’t yet have confirmation of a causal connection.”