Listeriosis And Pregnancy

What Is Listeriosis?

Listeria monocytogenes, commonly known as listeria, is a bacteria that occurs in a wide range of prepared foods. Listeria is the cause of an infection called listeriosis, which is usually contracted by eating foods that have been contaminated with the bacteria. Perhaps one of the most common food sources of listeriosis is unpasteurized dairy products, such as soft cheese with a rind (brie, Camembert), soft blue cheese and raw milk. Unpasteurized milk products, or milk that was not processed properly and is considered "dirty" may contain the listeria bacteria and consequently, pregnant women are advised against using them. Also on the list of susceptible foods are smoked salmon, unpasteurized juices, pate, and butter. "Deli" meats and other cooked sliced meats can also be contaminated.

Some sources of listeria bacteria are environmental. Soil, wood, decaying vegetation and water can all carry it. It is also thought that the bacteria may be present in the digestive systems of many animals, such as cattle and sheep. Stools passed by these animals can be contaminated. Meat and milk taken from a contaminated animal can carry listeria.

A Serious Threat To Pregnant Women And Their Babies

Listeria is a serious threat to pregnant women. It has been responsible for 2,500 illnesses and up to 500 deaths per year, 30 percent of which were pregnant women and their unborn babies. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriage or premature birth. Hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy weaken the body's natural defense against the listeria bacteria, leaving a pregnant woman more vulnerable to infection. Pregnant women have a 20 percent higher risk of contracting the infection than women who are not pregnant. While a woman may not be too adversely affected by listeriosis, the danger to her unborn baby is serious. Miscarriage, stillbirth, or death shortly after birth are all possible outcomes of listeriosis in pregnancy.

Invasive And Non-Invasive Listeriosis

There are two types of listeriosis, non-invasive and invasive. In non-invasive listeriosis, the infection remains in the digestive system and the symptoms present as a mild flu with accompanying pain and fever as well as diarrhea. Fortunately, the symptoms are usually short-lived and will pass in a few days without treatment.

Invasive listeriosis spreads into the blood (sepsis) and/or the central nervous system en route to the brain. Either of the secondary infections can be fatal. Since a woman's immune system is somewhat weakened during pregnancy, she and her baby are at risk for invasive listeriosis and new babies, less than a month olds are also at high risk for invasive listeriosis. Aggressive treatment with antibiotics in the hospital is the most effective treatment for invasive listeriosis. However, a listeriosis infection during pregnancy does carry significant risk for complications. Pregnancy-related cases of listeriosis end in the death of the baby in 22 percent of the cases.

An Ounce Of Prevention

Prevention is the best cure for listeria. Practicing good food hygiene is critical to protect against infection. Before preparing any food, before eating and after using the toilet, wash your hands. Wash or peel all raw vegetables. Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils often, especially after preparing raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Keep raw foods and prepared foods separate and do not store raw meat on top of prepared foods in the refrigerator. The moisture from the meat may contaminate the prepared food by dripping into it. Always cook food thoroughly. Ready to eat foods should be kept refrigerated in a fridge that is kept between 0C and 5C. Do not use foods after their "best by" dates and be sure to follow the storage instructions on the food labels.

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