October 24, 2021

At Special Risk For Listeria: Immune Compromised

Listeria isn’t one of the most a common causes of foodborne illness, but it is one of the most deadly. And some population segments are at special risk. Around 90 percent of people who contract Listeria infections fall into three groups, pregnant women, seniors and those with weakened immune systems.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteriaMichael’s story is featured on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Michael was recovering from cancer treatment in August 2011 when he contracted listeriosis from cantaloupe and was hospitalized. During his hospitalization, Michael developed Listeria meningitis. He had several seizures and was in a coma for eight weeks.

Michael underwent surgery several times, spent a month in a long-term acute care facility and two months at a neurological rehab hospital. In February, 2012, after five months in the hospital, he returned home as a quadriplegic. He died three weeks later.

Weakened immune systems can be caused by cancer, HIV/AIDS, kidney and liver disease and other illnesses. Medications such as steroids, cancer chemotherapy, and drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases can also weaken the immune system.

Those with weakened immune systems should avoid certain foods at higher risk of Listeria contamination including: raw foods, hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot; soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk; refrigerated pâté or meat spreads; smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish. Unpasteurized beverages should also be avoided.

Each year, about 1,600 Americans contract listeriosis. Most of them require hospitalization and one in every five cases proves fatal. Symptoms can take as long as 70 days after exposure to develop and include fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea and upset stomach.

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