What You Need To Know About Listeria And How To Stay Safe

The bacteria listeria became notoriously famous in an ice cream shop contamination last year.  It has been found that listeriosis, which results from listeria infection, can lead to women having a miscarriage or serious illness for their newborn. Anyone with a weakened immune system is at a higher risk for infection. Almost 1600 cases occur per year in America. Cold cuts and deli meats are a common source of bacteria because contamination may occur at the deli counter.

Listeria is a bacteria that is generally found in processed meats, smoked seafood, unpasteurized dairy, and rarely, produce. It typically grows in moist, muddy conditions and is often carried by animals.  Unlike many pathogens, the Listeria bacteria can grow at room temperatures and even refrigerator temperatures.  This means the bacteria, and therefore the risk of contamination can linger long after the source of the contamination is gone. As a result, illness that arises from listeria contamination are expected to pop up for weeks after a known outbreak because the lengthy incubation period

What signs and symptoms should you watch out for?

Typical symptoms of listeria include, fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms.  Additional symptoms include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.  More often than not, the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract, which is why symptoms can be so severe and the death rate is as high as it is.

For women who are pregnant, listeria infections produce symptoms that are similar to a mild, flu-like illness. Although the symptoms are mild in pregnant women, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. 

What type of treatment is available for listeria infection?

Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. A person in a high-risk category who experiences flu-like symptoms within 2 months of eating contaminated food should seek medical care and tell their doctor about consuming the contaminated food.  If a person has eaten food contaminated with Listeria and does not have any symptoms, it is common practice that no tests or treatment are needed, even for people that are at high risk for listeriosis.  Unfortunately for some, even with prompt treatment, some listeriosis cases result in death, especially in older adults and other people with serious medical problems.

To put into perspective, listeria is deadlier than other well-known pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) actually reports that 1 in 5 people who contract the disease can die from it. Listeriosis, the serious infection that results from the consumption of food contaminated with the listeria bacteria, primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems.

Other ways to prevent food poisoning

If you suspect food poisoning or have been formally diagnosed, contact your local health department to report your symptoms, what and where you ate and how soon after eating you became sick.  This may help them identify an outbreak and prevent other people from getting sick.

When cooking, be sure to wash your hands, utensils and cooking surfaces thoroughly and often.  While cutting raw food, i.e. poultry, beef, fish, keep it separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.  Make sure you always cook foods to a safe temperature.  Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods immediately.  When defrosting foods, do so in a refrigerator over a couple hours or under cool running water – never on the counter at room temperature.  If you are already aware of a contaminated food, refrain from buying it.  Furthermore, if you are doubtful of where your food originated, discard it to be safe. Just by taking a few, simple precautionary measures you can mitigate your potential consumption of contaminated foods and remain healthy.