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Updated on September 15, 2008

What is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a rare but serious, sometimes fatal, disease caused by the Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria) bacterium. Listeria is more likely to cause death than any other bacteria that causes food poisoning. It can be found in food and also elsewhere in the environment.


Listeria is a widespread bacterium and can be found in many places in the environment - soil, water, vegetation, sewage and the faeces of both animals and humans. Plants and animals become contaminated through soil, water and contaminated manure fertilizers. Some farm animals may appear healthy but actually carry the Listeria bacterium and thus contaminate meat and dairy products.

Unlike many other bacteria, Listeria can survive in the cold temperatures of a refrigerator. As such, it can grow on foods stored in the fridge, whereas other bacteria would be killed. When a food is contaminated, it looks and smells the same as uncontaminated food, so victims do not realize they are eating it. Listeria can be killed by cooking though.

Symptoms of Listeriosis

If you think that you have eaten anything contaminated by Listeria, you should be on the look out for the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe headache
  • Constipation
  • Persistent fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Loss of balance Convulsions

These symptoms can develop from 1 day (mild form) after eathing the contaminated food to up to 70 days for the more serious form of the disease. Although, many people will be carriers of the Listeria bacteria, very few will develop the symptoms listed above.


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