May 29, 2024

Listeria Poses Elevated Risk for Pregnant Women

Listeria monocytogenes is one of the deadliest foodborne pathogens and it poses a special risk during pregnancy. Among pregnant women, Listeria infections can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, or other serious health problems for newborns, even if the expectant mother shows no signs of illness.

Pregnant woman in kitchenPregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to contract listeriosis. For pregnant women who are Hispanic, the risk is 24 times higher.

About 1,600 Americans contract listeriosis each year. More than 90 percent them require hospitalization and about 16 percent of cases are fatal.  Most cases fall into three groups, pregnant women, seniors and those with weakened immune systems. Symptoms, which can take as long as 70 days after exposure to develop, include high fever, chills, muscle aches, a severe headache, diarrhea, and upset stomach.

But the illness may present differently in pregnant women. Some women only have a mild illness that is similar to the flu. And others have no symptoms at all. It’s important that every time a pregnant women feels sick she sees her doctor. And it’s crucial to pay attention to food recalls for potential Listeria contamination.

To reduce the risk of exposure to Listeria during pregnancy, some foods should be avoided by pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  They include: raw foods, unpasteurized beverages, hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot;  deli salads, meat spreads or pâtés, smoked seafood unless it is used as an ingredient in a cooked dish and soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela.

The two multistate Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks linked to soft cheese this year both included pregnant women and newborns. And both included fatalities.

In October, the CDC announced that an outbreak linked to Oasis cheeses killed one person in Tennessee and sickened two others in New York and Texas. One case was related to a pregnancy and was diagnosed in a newborn.

In March, the CDC announced that an outbreak linked to Roos Cheese had sickened eight people in Maryland and California. Three of the victims were newborns, two mothers of the newborns were also sickened. One person died in that outbreak.


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