Listeriosis is a foodborne disease caused by the infection of the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. This infection may cause severe symptoms in pregnant women and people who have a weak immune system. It may also affect newborns and the elderly. The symptoms are generally not very serious in the case of healthy children and adults. Newborn babies may be infected if the mother eats contaminated food during pregnancy. In pregnant women, listeria infection may lead to miscarriage and premature delivery. Those who take high doses of prednisone or certain rheumatoid arthritis drugs also have a high risk of listeria infection.
This infectious bacteria is found in soil and water. Vegetables may carry the bacteria when contaminated water or manure is used for growing plants. Similarly, animals may also carry the bacteria and spread the same when used in the form of meat and dairy products. Contamination may happen after processing as in the case of cheese and deli meat. Bacteria is also found in raw milk and products made from unprocessed milk. Some of the food sources for infection include pre-packed sandwiches, butter, soft cheeses, cooked or raw sliced meat, and smoked salmon.
The most common symptoms of listeriosis include:
As the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms like headaches, stiff neck, confusion, and loss of balance starts to appear. In healthy adults, the symptoms are mild and disappear within a few weeks and no specific treatment may be required. In most cases, the symptoms of the infection may be unnoticed. In some cases, listeria infection may cause septicaemia or meningitis, both life threatening complications. Antibiotics are recommended for pregnant women to prevent the infection of fetus. Combination of antibiotics may be used in the case of infection of newborns.
Listeriosis can be prevented by practicing good food habits:
- Always wash your hands before and after handling food. Clean the surfaces where food is prepared using warm soapy water.
- Clean raw vegetables and fruits thoroughly under running water.
- Cook foods like meat, egg and poultry well.
- Keep foods like meat, poultry, eggs, ready to eat foods and fish in the refrigerator within two hours of purchase.
- Keep the refrigerator clean and spill free, especially juices from hot dogs or raw meat
- Follow the labels of products carefully for storing and using them.
- Avoid having hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats if you are pregnant.
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold at the recommended temperatures.