Health Education To Villages
 
Home Programmes Resources India Partners Site Map About Us Contact Us

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 CDC Home Search Health Topics A-Z
Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases BranchLink Online to Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases BranchCDC MenuSafe Water System Menu

 

BackListeriosis
 

Frequently Asked Questions


Listeriosis, a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, has recently been recognized as an important public health problem in the United States. The disease affects primarily pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. It can be avoided by following a few simple recommendations.


What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

A person with listeriosis has fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrintestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.

Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

How great is the risk for listeriosis?

In the United States, an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 500 die. At increased risk are:

  • Pregnant women - They are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy.
  • Newborns - Newborns rather than the pregnant women themselves suffer the serious effects of infection in pregnancy.
  • Persons with weakened immune systems
  • Persons with cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • Persons with AIDS - They are almost 300 times more likely to get listeriosis than people with normal immune systems.
  • Persons who take glucocorticosteroid medications
  • The elderly

Healthy adults and children occasionally get infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.

to Top

How does Listeria get into food?

Listeria monocytogenes is found in soil and water. Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer.
Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products. The bacterium has been found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts at the deli counter. Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk may contain the bacterium.

Listeria is killed by pasteurization, and heating procedures used to prepare ready-to-eat processed meats should be sufficient to kill the bacterium; however, unless good manufacturing practices are followed, contamination can occur after processing.

to Top

How do you get listeriosis?

You get listeriosis by eating food contaminated with Listeria. Babies can be born with listeriosis if their mothers eat contaminated food during pregnancy. Although healthy persons may consume contaminated foods without becoming ill, those at increased risk for infection can probably get listeriosis after eating food contaminated with even a few bacteria. Persons at risk can prevent Listeria infection by avoiding certain high-risk foods and by handling food properly.

to Top

Can listeriosis be prevented?

The general guidelines recommended for the prevention of listeriosis are similar to those used to help prevent other foodborne illnesses, such as salmonellosis.

How can you reduce your risk for listeriosis?

General recommendations:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods made from raw milk.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.

Recommendations for persons at high risk, such as pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems, in addition to the recommendations listed above:

  • Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese. (Hard cheesed, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt need not be avoided.)
  • Left-over foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, should be cooked until steaming hot before eating.
  • Although the risk of listeriosis associated with foods from deli counters is relatively low, pregnant women and immunosupressed persons may choose to avoid these foods or thoroughly reheat cold cuts before eating.

to Top

How do you know if you have listeriosis?

There is no routine screening test for susceptibility to listeriosis during pregnancy, as there is for rubella and some other congenital infections. If you have symptoms such as fever or stiff neck, consult your doctor. A blood or spinal fluid test (to cultivate the bacteria) will show if you have listeriosis. During pregnancy, a blood test is the most reliable way to find out if your symptoms are due to listeriosis.

to Top

What should you do if you've eaten a food recalled because of Listeria contamination?

The risk of an individual person developing Listeria infection after consumption of a contaminated product is very small. If you have eaten a contaminated product and do not have any symptoms, we do not recommend that you have any tests or treatment, even if you are in a high-risk group. However, if you are in a high-risk group, have eaten the contaminated product, and within 2 months become ill with fever or signs of serious illness, you should contact your physician and inform him or her about this exposure.

to Top

Can listeriosis be treated?

When infection occurs during pregnancy, antibiotics given promptly to the pregnant woman can often prevent infection of the fetus or newborn.
Babies with listeriosis receive the same antibiotics as adults, although a combination of antibiotics is often used until physicians are certain of the diagnosis. Even with prompt treatment, some infections result in death. This is particularly likely in the elderly and in persons with other serious medical problems.

to Top

What is the government doing about listeriosis?

Government agencies and the food industry have taken steps to reduce contamination of food by the Listeria bacterium. The Food and Drug Administration and the U. S. Department of Agriculture monitor food regularly. When a processed food is found to be contaminated, food monitoring and plant inspection are intensified, and if necessary, the implicated food is recalled.

The National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID) is studying listeriosis in several states to help measure the impact of prevention activities and recognize trends in disease occurrence. NCID also assists local health departments in investigating outbreaks. Early detection and reporting of outbreaks of listeriosis to local and state health departments can help identify sources of infection and prevent more cases of the disease.

to Top

 

CDC Menu

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Infectious Diseases
Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases
Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch

 

 The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust Programmes | Resources | India | Partners | Site Map | About Us | Contact Us top of page

Feedback Form