January 19, 2018

At Special Risk For Listeria: Pregnant Women

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

Stephanie and Michael’s story is featured on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’S) website. Stephanie was 30 weeks pregnant when she felt something was suddenly wrong. She didn’t feel sick, but knew something was wrong when she didn’t feel her baby moving. Her son, Michael, was delivered via emergency C-section. He had listeriosis, was brain dead and unable to breathe on his own. He died in Stephanie’s arms.

About 1,600 American contract listeriosis each year. Most of them require hospitalization and one in every five cases proves fatal. Symptoms can take up to 70 days after exposure to develop and include fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea and upset stomach. Among pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects or other serious health problems for newborns, even if the expectant mother shows no signs of illness.

For pregnant women, the risk of contracting listeriosis is 10 times higher than the general population. For pregnant women who are Hispanic, the risk is 24 times higher. This may be due to increased consumption of Mexican-style soft cheese, like queso fresco, which is a higher risk food according to the CDC.

To reduce the risk of exposure to Listeria, foods that should be avoided during pregnancy are: 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 and smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish. Raw milk and other unpasteurized beverages should also be avoided.

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