Listeria food poisoning – known as listeriosis – is a high risk for pregnant women, the elderly and newborns. Listeria is a bacterium that can grow either with oxygen or without. Only one form of listeria can cause infection in humans, known as L. monocytogenes. Listeria bacteria can grow at temperatures of 86 to 98.6 degrees F (30 to 37 degrees C), but can also grow at refrigerator temperatures. This is what distinguishes it from other food poisoning-causing bacteria.
Listeria can be found in water, soil, infected animals, human animal feces, raw and treated sewage, leafy vegetables, effluent from meat and poultry processing, decaying corn and soybean, and raw unpasteurized milk. Food-borne transmission of listeria is estimated at 85 to 95 percent of cases. It is unknown what the dosage of listeria should be in order to cause infection; therefore, even a small amount may be enough to bring on symptoms.
Symptoms and risks of listeria infection
Listeria can affect anyone, but those with weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women, newborns and the elderly, are at a higher risk of developing a listeria infection.
Symptoms of listeria include:
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
- Muscle aches
Pregnant women face greater risks if they contract listeria. Symptoms and complications associated with listeria infection in pregnant women are:
- Premature delivery
- Life-threatening illness to the newborn
Tips to prevent a listeria infection
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have compiled together a list of tips in order to prevent infection due to listeria. They include:
- Always wash food thoroughly.
- Scrub firm produce like melons and cucumbers.
- Dry food items with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Separate food items, such as meat and vegetables – don’t have them on the same surfaces or near each other.
- Always wash your hands and utensils.
- Use different utensils for different food items.
- Regulate temperature in your refrigerator and ensure you are cleaning out your refrigerator regularly.
- Clean up all spills and meat juices right away.
- Always cook meat at its designated temperature and ensure it is cooked thoroughly.
- Don’t keep food beyond its expiry date.
- Do not drink raw milk or consume foods that contain raw milk.
Treatment for listeria infection
Listeria infection can be treated with antibiotics, and if you are part of the high risk category, you should seek medical attention right away to minimize the risk of complications.
If a person has consumed food with listeria but symptoms are not present, many experts don’t treat it unless, once again, the person is at high risk.
For most people, the risk of death from listeria is rare, but it can be a real threat in those in the high risk group.
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