Thursday, April 3, 2014


Listeriosis is caused by a tiny and innocent looking microorganism called Listeria monocytogenes which turns up quite frequently in our food supply. One of the biggest problems is that it is so hard to know if you have caught it.

Popular food items that most often carry this bacterium are Mexican-style cheese (queso fresco or queso blanco) or other cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, deli (ready-to-eat and supposedly “fully cooked”) meats, and raw vegetables and sprouts (the bacterium exists in the soil and water). Ready-to-eat or “convenience” foods (such as sandwiches, salads, snacks) are increasingly a culprit, because many food service workers carry this bacterium and can contaminate the food during preparation. There are several other posts on this blog discussing which particular foods you need to avoid.

If you are healthy and not pregnant, you don’t need to worry about Listeriosis. You might only feel a little bit “off” for a few days, or not even feel ill at all even if you do get a dose of it. But if you are pregnant (see previous post) or have a weakened immune system, you have to do your very best to avoid foods that could carry it. Should you catch it anyway, you need to get to the doctor as quickly as possible.

So how do you know if you might have it? The symptoms are usually ones like nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache and muscle aches, which could easily be confused with the ‘flu. If the infection becomes “invasive” (that is, the bacteria enter the blood causing bloodstream infection, or, the central nervous system, causing meningitis) you might even have convulsions, a stiff neck and feel disoriented, confused or suffer loss of balance.

A big problem for pregnant women is that they often only experience fever and other very vague symptoms. Other people with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions (like diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, and HIV/AIDS) are more likely to have the full range of symptoms.

Remember too that just because you are sure you didn’t eat any “risky” foods in the last week or so, doesn’t mean you don’t have Listeriosis. It could be something you at as long as 20 or even 30 days ago, as sometimes symptoms of this disease take a very long time to develop. Go to a doctor anyway.

Listeriosis is usually treated with antibiotics during pregnancy. These antibiotics, in most cases, will prevent infection to the fetus and newborn. So quick action is important.

To your good health,


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