What is Listeriosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 May 2018
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Listeriosis is a type of bacterial infection which is classically acquired through the consumption of contaminated food. In individuals with a healthy immune system, the bacteria usually cannot multiply and spread, but in immunocompromised people, older adults, and children, the infection can become very serious or even deadly. Like other food borne illnesses, the risk of developing listeriosis can be radically reduced by observing handling precautions when dealing with food.

This infection is caused by Listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria are often present in water and soil in addition to animals, and in fact many humans have a few Listeria bacteria in their guts at any given time. Listeriosis classically develops when people handle infected animals and do not wash their hands afterwards, or when they eat contaminated food. Soft cheese is often a suspect in listeriosis outbreaks, as are poorly cooked meats.

Listeriosis can take a number of forms. Some patients develop fever, headache, nausea, and diarrhea as the bacteria causes gastrointestinal illness. However, the bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and the nervous system, causing convulsions, loss of balance, confusion, and convulsions. This type of infection is far more serious, and it requires immediate treatment with antibiotics.


Infection with Listeria is especially dangerous for pregnant women. Women can miscarry as a result of listeriosis, and they can also pass the infection on to the fetus as it develops. Listeriosis can also develop as a result of cross contamination during labor and delivery. In neonates, this infection is extremely dangerous and often deadly, because their bodies and immune systems are simply not up to defeating the bacteria.

Pregnant women should be extremely careful about what they eat to avoid listeriosis and other dangerous medical conditions which can threaten the pregnancy. Most obstetricians provide their patients with a list of safe foods and foods which should be avoided, along with the reasons for the necessity of avoiding certain foods. Individuals with compromised immune systems also need to watch their diets carefully to avoid foods which could cause listeriosis and other potentially deadly infections.

Cooking food thoroughly can kill the bacteria which cause this infection, along with any other unwanted bacterial visitors. It is also important to hold foods at safe temperatures, whether they are hot or cold, and to wash hands frequently while preparing food, in addition to handling meat and seafood on isolated cutting boards which are not shared with vegetables and other ingredients.



Discuss this Article

Post 4

@babylove - It wouldn't hurt to let your doctor know about your condition, however diarrhea and constipation are very common conditions during pregnancy.

There are other symptoms of listeria that are more cause for concern than diarrhea like fever, sore muscles, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions.

If you experience any of the above than you should definitely seek medical attention right away. Remember too that you may not experience any symptoms right away so without a blood test it would be difficult to know if you have it or not.

Post 3

I'm a little scared now after reading this article about listeria during pregnancy. I'm twenty-one weeks pregnant and I ate a packaged deli sandwich from a convenience mart last week.

We were on our way home from a road trip when my husband stopped to fuel up the car. I was starving at the time so he brought me a sandwich, some chips and a bottle of water.

I was fine for the first few days after we got home but today I have terrible stomach cramps and diarrhea. I'm worried that I could have a listeria infection from bad meat even though it tasted fine.

Do you think I should contact my physician or should I wait a while longer?

Post 2

I think most everyone knows the dangers of salmonella when eating uncooked meats like pork and poultry, but did you know that an innocent package of hot dogs is filled with bacteria as well?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advices women who are pregnant not to eat hot dogs or deli cut meats unless they've been reheated until they're hot.

It's also important to be careful not to get the liquid from the hot dog packages on other food products and utensils and to always wash your hands after handling them. You should do the same with luncheon and deli cut meats too.

Listeriosis symptoms may not show up for several weeks due to its extensive incubation period. If you are pregnant and suspect that you have been exposed to a contaminated meat or dairy product, then you should consult with your doctor right away for a possible listeriosis diagnosis.

Post 1

It is a very wise website, warning people about listeriosis!

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