Updated: 2019, Aug 7

Listeriosis During Pregnancy: Risk, Causes and its Treatments

By - Reviewed by CHD Team
Listeriosis During Pregnancy

What is Listeria?

There is a bacterium that cab live in the soil and can also live within the water sources. This bacterium is called: Listeria, due to the fact that this bacterium lives in this habitat then some animals such as poultry and cattle are one of the most important sources of these bacteria. Unpasteurized milk and the food that is made from it also a very important source. These bacteria enter the animals’ body through the processed plants, and it spreads inside their bodies and can be found in their meat. That is why the meat taken from these animals must be treated in special way in order to kill these bacteria. The rare bacterial disease that is called Listeriosis is caused by the Listeria and this serious infection can be caused by ingesting contaminated food with the Listeria bacteria. The disease primarily affects newborns, pregnant women, adults whose immune systems are weak, and especially the elderly. Listeria bacteria can stay live in low temperature and even can live in freezing temperatures.

Risks Of Pregnant Women Getting Listeriosis

One of the most major risk factor for having the Listeriosis disease is ingesting liquids and foods containing Listeria bacteria. The soil and animal feces can infect the food or the water sources, and if the food is not washed well then these 2 can be a very dangerous source for the Listeria organisms. Non-pasteurized liquids and the contaminated liquids is a very important source of infection. During pregnancy, parts of your immune system are suppressed. That’s why pregnant women are more susceptible to be infected with Listeriosis 20 times compared to other healthy individuals. Approximately 1/3 of all cases occurs in pregnant women; also newborns and fetuses to these women are at high risk to get Listeriosis.

Listeriosis During Pregnancy

Foods That Can Cause Listeriosis

  • Soft cheeses like Brie, Feta and Camembert, or “queso fresco”, “queso blanco,” or Panela or “blue-veined cheeses,” – unless the milk that they are made from is pasteurized milk. Always please make sure that the label states that the milk used is pasteurized milk.
  • Luncheon meats, hot dogs, and deli meats unless they are steamed hot.
  • Refrigerated meat spreads or pâtés.
  • Raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
  • Untreated or contaminated water
  • Raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, and meat
  • Unwashed fresh vegetables or fruits
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood can’t be eaten unless this smoked seafood is in a cooked very well

How Will I Know That I Have Listeriosis?

There is a chance that you might not know. Some people have no symptoms, but there are possible Listeriosis symptoms, and they are as follows:

  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms may begin a few days after you’ve eaten contaminated food, but it may take as long as two months before the first signs and symptoms of infection begin.

If the Listeria infection extends to your nervous system, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion or changes in alertness
  • Headache
  • Convulsions
  • Loss of balance

Occasionally, localized skin infections may occur, especially in people who handle animals that are infected with Listeria. These skin infections rarely lead to further complications such as brain infection.

Can Listeriosis Harm The Baby?

Women who are pregnant can be more susceptible to Listeria infections than are other adults who are healthy. Although a Listeria infection may cause only a mild illness in the mother, consequences for the baby may include:

How Can Listeriosis Be Prevented?

  • Cook all meat, poultry, and fish thoroughly.
  • Reheat leftovers thoroughly.
  • Avoid eating luncheon meats, deli meats, or hot dogs except they are properly reheated to steaming.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk. That includes both cow and goat’s milk – and food made with them.
  • Eat hard cheeses instead of soft cheeses.
  • Do not eat refrigerated meat spreads or pates.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless this smoked seafood is in a cooked very well.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables very well.
  • Keep everything clean including your hands and preparation surfaces.
  • Avoid contaminating food that’s ready to eat. Keep any potentially contaminated food separate from clean produce and from cooked and ready to eat food.
  • Clean sponges and dishcloths regularly.
  • Don’t keep food around too long.
  • Your refrigerator must be cleaned more often. The shelves and the inside walls should be cleaned with hot water and dishwashing detergent, then rinse again using water
  • Check the temperature in your fridge and freezer. Make sure your refrigerator is set between 35 and 40 degrees F and your freezer at or below zero. Use a refrigerator thermometer to confirm the temperature.

How Can Listeriosis Be Treated?

Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics during pregnancy. These antibiotics, in most cases, will prevent infection to the fetus and newborn. These same antibiotics are also given to newborns with Listeriosis.

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Peony C Echavez

Peony is a registered nurse and former Director of Nursing services for a large nursing facility. She has written web content for a lar

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