Listeria Symptoms, During Pregnancy, Precautions


There are some conditions you do not want to get during pregnancy and Listeriosis is one of them.  Listeriosis is an infection that is often found in contaminated meat products, such as luncheon meats and other types of meats.  Listeria isn’t dangerous when you aren’t pregnant but it can cause problems to your unborn child if you get Listeriosis during the pregnancy.  To make matters worse, pregnant women seem to be more likely to get Listeriosis than women who are not pregnant.

What is Listeria?

Listeria or Listeria monocytogenes is a kind of bacteria that is prevalent in the water supply and in the soil.  Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated with Listeria and should be washed carefully before eating them raw.  There are also animal sources of Listeria.  It can be found in milk that has not been pasteurized, meats that have not been properly cooked, and raw vegetables. Fortunately, Listeria can be killed in the pasteurization process and when food is cooked to the proper temperature.  Contamination is also possible when eating luncheon meats and hot dogs, even though they have been processed at the factory.

Risks of Getting Listeriosis in Pregnancy

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention}, about 1,700 Americans get sick from Listeriosis and 260 individuals will die from it each year.  It is estimated that pregnant women have a 20 times risk of getting a Listeria infection when compared to non-pregnant women and about 17 percent of pregnant women will develop the disease.

Symptoms of Listeriosis

You won’t develop symptoms of listeriosis until 2-30 days after you have been exposed to the microorganism.  Common symptoms of listeriosis include headaches, fever, muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. It may feel as though you have the flu.  Listeria can infect the nervous system, resulting in seizures, confusion, and a stiff neck.

The infection can develop at any time during the pregnancy but seems to be more common among women who are in their third trimester of pregnancy.  This is because the immune system isn’t at its best during this period of the pregnancy.  If you think you might have listeriosis, you can have a blood test at the doctor’s office to confirm the presence of the disease.

Listeriosis and the Fetus

listeria symptoms, during pregnancy, precautionsIf you develop listeriosis during pregnancy, you baby may be perfectly safe.  However, statistics show that women infected with listeria bacteria have a higher risk of miscarriage, infection in the infant, stillbirth or neonatal death, and premature delivery of your infant.

Fortunately, you can be treated with antibiotics during the pregnancy to fight off the infection and lessen the chances that your baby will become infected.  Remember, though, that even if you aren’t treated, your baby may be completely normal.

Treatment of Listeriosis

The only way to treat listeriosis in pregnancy is to take antibiotics to get rid of the infection.  First, you need a blood test to confirm the diagnosis and, if this is positive, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics that protect both you and your baby from being further infected.  An infant with listeriosis will also get antibiotics after it is born.

Prevention of Listeriosis

There are things you can do to prevent an attack of listeriosis.  Here are some good preventative measures:

Eat only hard cheese:

Avoid eating cheeses that are soft, such as Camembert, Brie cheese, feta cheese, Mexican-style cheeses, and blue-veined cheeses.  Avoid any cheese that has not been pasteurized. Cheddar cheeses and mozzarella cheeses are generally safe to eat.  You can also eat cottage cheese, pasteurized cheese slices and pasteurized cheese spreads.  Read the label to see if the cheese has been pasteurized.

Avoid lunch meat, hot dogs, and deli meats:

listeria symptoms, during pregnancy, precautionsThis basically applies only to those meats that have not been recently cooked to kill off the bacteria.  You shouldn’t eat these types of meats at restaurants but should eat them at home when you can be sure that the meats have been re-heated.

Avoid meat spreads and pates: These can be infected with Listeria and should be avoided during pregnancy.

Avoid smoked seafood unless it has been recently cooked: Refrigerated smoked seafood is not safe unless it is cooked to the proper temperature before eating.

Handle food safely:

This means washing all vegetables and fruits carefully before eating them, keeping the surfaces you cut or chop food with are clean, and wash your hands before preparing any type of food.  Your refrigerator should be set to 40 degrees or lower and you should clean out your refrigerator on a regular basis.  Use a food thermometer when cooking meats so you know that they have been cooked at the proper temperature.  Don’t mix raw foods with other foods as there can be cross-contamination.  After cooking food, don’t leave leftovers out and put them in the refrigerator or freezer after they have been cooked.


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