Listeria is a bacterium that is found in soil, water and animals such as cattle and poultry. It can cause food borne illness and a rare but serious type of food poisoning known as listeriosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get listeriosis than the general population. Why? Pregnancy affects your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.
It is important to talk about listeriosis and pregnancy because, as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) points out, listeriosis can affect your baby, as you can pass the infection onto them. Therefore, it is important to be aware of prevention, symptoms and treatment options.
How can you help prevent listeriosis? According to ACOG, cooking and pasteurization are the only ways to kill listeria in food. Therefore, avoiding certain foods while pregnant and following steps for food safety can help prevent infection. A good resource for foods to avoid is this checklist from Foodsafety.gov, a website that contains information on food safety recalls and alerts from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Such items include all raw and under cooked seafood, eggs, meat and poultry, hot dogs and luncheon meats, unwashed or raw produce and any unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk.
Listeriosis Risks for Hispanic Women
According to the CDC, the risk of getting listeriosis is greater, 24 times greater in fact, for Hispanic women while pregnant. Soft cheeses such as queso fresco, Cotija cheese, queso blanco and others are often made from raw, unpasteurized milk. Make sure that you only buy cheese with the word “pasteurized” on the label. The CDC has infographics in both English and Spanish for reference.
What are the symptoms of listeriosis? According to ACOG, many pregnant women do not have any symptoms, however, you can still pass infection onto your baby. Listeriosis can cause chills, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, upset stomach or other flu-like symptoms for pregnant women. You may also feel fatigue. Note – it can take two months for symptoms to appear.
If you feel that you have eaten contaminated food or if you have any symptoms, make sure that you contact your healthcare provide immediately. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Listeriosis’ Effects on Your Baby
How can listeriosis affect your baby? The infection can be passed to your unborn baby which can cause lifelong health problems such as blindness, intellectual disability, paralysis, seizures or problems with the brain, heart or kidneys. Listeriosis also increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery or stillbirth. Also, note that not all babies born from mothers infected with listeriosis will have problems.
As mentioned above, make sure you contact your healthcare provider right away if you think you have listeriosis. You will be given a blood test to see if you are infected or not. Treatment could include antibiotics. (If you have any questions about antibiotics and pregnancy, we wrote about this in a previous blog post.)