Avoid Listeria while pregnant

Listeriosis is a bacterial infection that can be spread by contaminated food products. In the past, frequent culprits included deli meats, hot dogs, and cheese made with unpasteurized milk.

During the summer of 2014 it was peaches, plums, and nectarines. Later in the year, it was commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel apples. What's the connection? Contamination with Listeria, which can cause a serious infection during pregnancy.

Listeriosis is a bacterial infection that can be spread by contaminated food products. In the past, frequent culprits included deli meats, hot dogs, and cheese made with unpasteurized milk. In 2014, we've seen infections related to raw fruits. 

Pregnant women, especially those with diabetes, or HIV infection or on steroid therapy, are more susceptible to Listeria infections. As of Christmas week 2014, pregnant women accounted for about one-third of the reported listeria cases involving caramel apples. Symptoms can be very non-specific and look a lot like flu -- fever, headache, muscle aches, and sore throat.

Typically, infections in pregnant women are not severe, but they can have serious consequences for the pregnancy. Miscarriage, premature delivery, and stillbirth all increase following Listeria infections. Infections also can be transmitted to the newborn with the possibility of long-term neurological problems or even neonatal death.

What can you do to reduce the chance of getting infected with Listeria?

  1. Avoid certain high-risk foods. These include ready-to-eat refrigerated meats that you don't heat to steaming or cheeses that don't specify they were made from pasteurized milk. Meat- or seafood-based products that are non-refrigerated are safe to consume.
  2. Thoroughly wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating. Do this even if you are going to peel them before eating.
  3. Clean all surfaces that deli meats and cheeses touch. While you may not be eating those foods, if you are feeding them to your family, it's easy to cross-contaminate other foods in your kitchen.

And finally, if you have eaten some products that have been linked to Listeria infections, don't panic. Let your OB/GYN know, and he or she will decide the best course of action.

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