Listeriosis, a kind of food poisoning caused by harmful germs in something you eat or drink, is especially serious when you’re pregnant. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and headache.
There are over 1,600 new cases of listeriosis each year in the United States. Most healthy people don’t get sick from listeriosis. It mostly affects people with a weakened immune system, including pregnant women. If you get listeriosis during pregnancy, it can cause serious health problems for your growing baby including miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birthweight, and life-threatening infections.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get this serious form of food poisoning than others in the general population. And the risk is 24 times higher among pregnant Hispanic women, according to the Vital Signs report, released Tuesday by the CDC.
Most people get listeriosis by eating food that is contaminated with the bacteria Listeria. Food can come in contact with Listeria in soil, water, animals or animal poop.
Foods that may have Listeria include:
• Vegetables that come in contact with animal poop in the soil or in fertilizer
• Meats, including beef, pork and chicken
• Unpasteurized milk and foods made with it. If a food has been pasteurized, it’s been heated to kill bad germs. Milk and juices often are pasteurized. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the product label.
• Hot dogs (and juice from hot dogs) and deli meats, like ham, turkey, salami and bologna
• Pre-made or cold salads from delis or salad bars
• Pates or meat spreads that have been kept in a refrigerator. Canned meat spreads are safe.
• Soft cheeses, like feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, blue-veined, queso blanco, queso fresco or Panela
• Smoked fish (nova style, lox, kippered or jerky) that has been kept in a refrigerator. Smoked fish is safe if it’s canned or you use it in a cooked dish (like a casserole).
Foods can cross contaminate each other. Cross contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria from one thing to another. For example, if you use the same knife to cut raw chicken and tomatoes and don’t wash the knife in between, it can pass Listeria from the chicken to the tomatoes. Or if you get juice from a hot dog package on a knife, it can pass Listeria from the knife to the next food you cut.
You may hear news stories about foods that have been recalled (not allowed to be sold) because of listeriosis. If you’ve eaten one of these foods, call your health care provider right away.
Signs and symptoms of listeriosis usually start a few days after you’ve eaten infected food. But it can take up to 2 months for them to appear. To test for listeriosis, your provider takes a sample of your blood or urine, or fluid from your spine. Your provider sends the sample to a lab for testing.
Listeriosis usually causes mild, flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle aches, chills, nausea, diarrhea. If listeriosis infection spreads to your nervous system (brain and spinal cord), symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, being confused, trouble with balance or seizures. Call your health care provider if you think you may have listeriosis. Treatment depends on your symptoms. During pregnancy, quick treatment with antibiotics can keep listeriosis from harming your baby.
Here are some things you can do to help prevent listeriosis:
• Handle foods safely when you wash, prepare, cook and store them.
• Wash your hands well with soap and water after contact with animals, animal food, bedding, tanks or animal poop.
• Wash your hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom.
• Watch out for cross contamination between yourself, food and any utensils or supplies you use when preparing or eating food.