Definition - What does Listeria mean?

Listeria is a type of bacteria that causes listeriosis, a serious infection caused by eating contaminated food (food poisoning). Listeria can induce miscarriage, stillbirth, or other potentially fatal pregnancy complications.

FertilitySmarts explains Listeria

While listeriosis is a serious concern, listeria is a common, widespread bacterium. Most healthy children and adults do not become sickened when encountering the bacteria. However, those with compromised immune systems are at significant risk. During pregnancy a woman’s immune system is suppressed, a biological feature that allows the fetus to grow. However, this suppression creates increased susceptibility to listeria infections. Once a woman is infected, the bacteria can cross to the fetus via the placenta, which puts the fetus at high risk for negative outcomes. The most effective way to prevent pregnancy complication caused by listeria is through prevention and safe food practices.

People who come into contact with listeria may experience mild, moderate or severe symptoms of listeriosis, however many experience no symptoms at all. It can take 2-30 days for symptoms to develop after exposure. Likewise, pregnant women with listeriosis may experience any range of symptoms. However, regardless of symptomology, the fetus is vulnerable to the bacteria.

Symptoms of listeriosis include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of balance

Foods at high risk for listeria contamination include:

  • Unpasteurized soft cheese
  • Unwashed raw produce
  • Smoked seafood
  • Unpasteurized milk
  • Pate
  • Processed meats, including hot dogs, lunch meats, or cold cuts
  • Reheat all leftovers to 165 degrees F
  • Avoid pre-made food containing eggs, meat or seafood

Additionally, increased precautions should be taken in the home and when cooking:

  • Clean spills immediately
  • Do not eat expired foods
  • Wash hands after handling any raw meat or food product on the aforementioned list
  • Maintain appropriate food temperatures
  • Wash dishes with hot water and soap
  • Dispose of sponges and dishcloths regularly

Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics during pregancy, which, in most cases will prevent infection to the baby.

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