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What is Listeria (Listeriosis)?

Updated on May 30, 2014
cantaloupe melon infected with listeria
cantaloupe melon infected with listeria

Listeriosis is a hot topic nowadays with its outbreaks and contamination of our fruits and vegetables. When ingested, the bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes infect the person and although it is often non-invasive and can only cause flu-like symptoms, there are still instances when immunocompromised people become infected with the invasive listeriosis.

In the unique instances when a person is infected with the invasive listeriosis, it would mean hospitalization, treatment of aggressive antibiotics and 35% often leads to death due to complications.

What are the symptoms of Listeriosis?

The disease commonly infects elderly people, pregnant women, newborns and generally, people with weakened immune system (those with cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, AIDS). Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headache, diarrhea, loss of balance and convulsions. It is particularly more detrimental for pregnant women as the disease can often lead to still birth, premature delivery and newborn infection. Newborn death is approximately 25 to 50 percent.

The symptoms may vary on its onset time and may approximately be 3 to 70 days after infection.

What are the common sources of Listeria monocytogenes?

It comes as no surprise that Listeria is present mostly on raw foods like fruits (most recent outbreak is of Cantaloupe), vegetables, animal meat products, cheese.

How to diagnose Listeriosis?

  • Blood and urine testing – most efficient and fastest method to detect the presence of bacteria
  • Taking CSF culture and spinal fluid sample
  • Spinal tapping – tests the fluid in the spine and brain
  • Amniotic fluid testing – This tests the presence of bacteria in a pregnant woman’s amniotic fluid and determine if the fetus is compromised or not

How to prevent Listeriosis?

It all comes down to food handling and preparation. Food that goes under the raw food category must be cooked properly before eating them. One should not only watch out for the bacteria that cause Listeriosis but also other bacteria as well. Certain types of bacteria form endospores and these spores are heat resistant and can survive temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Celsius.

If you or somebody you know has been infected with Listeria or show similar symptoms, do not hesitate to go to the nearest clinic and have yourself or your friend checked out.

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