April 14, 2021

Queso Fresco Listeria Outbreak Spotlights High Risk for Pregnant Women

The ongoing queso fresco Listeria outbreak is spotlighting the tremendous risk listeriosis poses to pregnant women, especially those who are Hispanic.

Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to contract Listeria infections, 24 times more likely if they are Hispanic. And, among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and infection in newborns even if the expectant mother only experiences mild symptoms.

El Abuelito Cheese Listeria Sample Matches Outbreak Strain

In this outbreak, linked to cheeses produced by El Abuelito of Paterson, NJ, 11 people have been sickened and one person has died, according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Two of the 11 illnesses are pregnancy-associated and include a newborn and a pregnant woman who are unrelated, a CDC spokesman told Food Poisoning Bulletin. The newborn and the pregnant woman are both Hispanic. In fact, all but one of the people sickened in this outbreak are Hispanic, CDC reports show.

Cheese is a common source of Listeria outbreaks, especially soft, fresh cheese. Between 2011 and 2021, the CDC announced 21 Listeria outbreaks. Eight of them were associated with cheese. No other food came close to that number. Ham/deli meat, the second most commonly cited source, was linked to three outbreaks. The rest of the foods were each linked to one outbreak.

Listeria lawyer - Listeria outbreaks by food source 2011-2021

Pregnancy and Cheese Listeria Outbreaks

Pregnancy-associated illnesses occurred in all but one of the eight Listeria outbreaks where cheese was a food source, a  2019 outbreak linked to sliced deli meats and cheeses that sickened 10 people killing one of them.

  • A 2017 Listeria outbreak linked to Vulto Creamery soft raw milk cheese sickened eight people including one newborn.
  • A 2015 outbreak linked to soft cheeses made by Karoun Dairies included 30 illnesses and three deaths. Six of the illnesses were pregnancy-related, one resulted in a fetal loss.
  • A 2014 Listeria outbreak linked to Oasis cheeses sickened five people, killing one of them. All of the patients were Hispanic. One case diagnosed in a newborn was pregnancy-related.
  • A 2014 Listeria outbreak linked to Roos Cheese sickened eight people, one of whom died. All of the patients were Hispanic. Five cases were pregnancy-related including three newborns and two of their mothers.
  • A 2013 Listeria outbreak linked to Crave Brothers cheese sickened six people one of whom died. One of the illnesses was pregnancy-related and resulted in a miscarriage.
  • A 2012 Listeria outbreak linked to Frescolina Ricotta Salata cheese sickened 22 people, four of whom died. Nine of the illnesses were pregnancy-related including three newborns. One fetal loss was reported.

Why Are Pregnant Women at Such High Risk?

For a long time, people thought pregnant women were at elevated risk for Listeria infections because of their suppressed immune systems. But researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that after a pregnant woman eats food contaminated with Listeria, the bacteria makes its way to the placenta where it hides from the immune system multiplying in great numbers before invading the rest of the body.

Symptoms of a Listeria infection include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, and upset stomach. Usually, they develop within two weeks of exposure but can take as long as 70 days to appear. The people sickened in this outbreak reported experiencing the onset of symptoms on dates ranging from October 20, 2020, to February 14, 2021.

El Abuelito Queso Fresco Recall

El Abueltio has issued a recall for queso fresco products sold under the brand names El Abuelito, Rio Grande, and Rio Lindo; and for the Quesillo and Requeson products sold under the brand names El Abuelito, Viejito, El Paisano, El Sabrosito, La Cima, Quesos Finos, San Carlos, and Ideal brands. Anyone who has eaten these cheeses and develops symptoms of a Listeria infection should see a doctor right away.

El Abuelito Quesillo and Requeson Cheeses Recalled For Listeria Risk

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