Health Care

What to Know About Listeria

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There’s been a lot of buzz about listeria lately, and for good reason. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 26 people were infected with listeriosis across several states at the beginning of February — and experts are concerned that number may be much higher than current official reports.

Since you may have questions about this listeria outbreak, we’re sharing information to help keep your family safe.

What is Listeria?

Listeria is a kind of bacteria found in soil, water and some animals, including cattle and poultry. When you eat food contaminated with listeria, it can cause listeriosis, which is one of the most serious types of food poisoning. In fact, the CDC reports listeria as the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States.

Who’s Most at Risk?

Anyone who eats contaminated food can get listeriosis. But for most, the illness results in mild intestinal illness. Of course, some cases can become more serious, especially if the infection spreads outside the intestines, and certain individuals are more at risk than others.

Listeria and Pregnancy

Pregnant women are ten times more likely to get listeriosis than the rest of the population. While the mother may not suffer many symptoms from listeriosis, the infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term labor or an infection in the baby.

Babies who are born with listeriosis could also suffer from serious infections in their blood or brain — infections that can lead to lifelong problems like intellectual disability, paralysis, seizures or blindness.

If you’re pregnant and think you may have eaten a food contaminated with listeria, it’s crucial to talk with a doctor right away.

Generally, it’s a good idea for pregnant women to watch the foods they eat during their pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, we recommend you avoid:

  • Hot dogs and deli meats
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
  • Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk

Other People at Risk for Listeriosis

In addition to pregnant women, people who are older than 65 and those who have weakened immune systems are also at risk for major complications from listeriosis, including severe symptoms leading to necessary hospitalization.

How Do I Recognize Listeriosis Symptoms?

It’s possible to experience symptoms as early as the day you ate contaminated food and as long as ten weeks afterward. It’s best to be safe by talking with a doctor if you suspect you’ve eaten contaminated food or have any questions.

It can be hard to spot listeriosis symptoms since they overlap with many other illnesses and conditions. But common listeriosis symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Upset stomach

And if the infection spreads to your nervous system, you may also experience:

  • Balance issues
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck

What Precautions Can I Take to Prevent Listeriosis?

The best way to protect yourself from the listeria outbreak is to take the following steps:

  • Keep your refrigerator cool. Your refrigerator should be at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Wipe down your kitchen. If you’ve had any food with listeria in your kitchen, it may have contaminated your countertops. Wash them thoroughly with soap and warm water.

You should also throw away any recalled foods. Researchers have pinpointed specific food sources directly linked to this recent outbreak, including queso fresco and cotija products made by Rizo-Lopez Foods. And, in an abundance of caution, several other companies are now recalling cheeses, creams and yogurts, such as blanco suave, cotija, Oaxaca, panel, queso creme, queso fresco, queso para freir, queso sec, requeson and ricotta.

As part of its ongoing investigation, the CDC has also posted a list of the foods included in the recall. This list is continually updated, so be sure to check in periodically for any updates.

Past outbreaks have been linked to various foods, including raw, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, ice cream, undercooked meats, raw or smoked fish and other seafood, and raw or processed fruits and vegetables.

We’re Here When You Need Us

If you’re experiencing symptoms of listeriosis and would like to talk with a doctor, our experts are ready to help with skilled and compassionate care. Find an AdventHealth location near you

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