What you need to know about Listeria

Listeria monocytogenes, listeria

What is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes 1, is an important public health problem in the United States 2. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems 3. However, rarely, people without these risk factors can also be affected. The risk may be reduced by following a few simple recommendations.

What are the Symptoms of Listeriosis?

A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has “invasive” infection, in which the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract. The symptoms vary with the infected person:
Pregnant women: Pregnant women typically experience fever and other non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn 3,4.
People other than pregnant women: Symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.

Listeriosis can present in different ways. In older adults and people with immunocompromising conditions, septicemia and meningitis are the most common clinical presentations 2. Pregnant women may experience a fever and other non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches, followed by fetal loss or bacteremia and meningitis in their newborns. Immunocompetent people may experience acute febrile gastroenteritis or no symptoms.

Who is at risk?

Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as cancer). In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.

Information via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

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