Listeriosis is an infection that causes fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, and muscle aches. It’s caused by the consumption of food contaminated by bacterium Listeria monocytogenes and is considered a public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though medical advancements and public awareness have reduced the number of listeriosis cases, outbreaks continue to occur. If you or somebody you love came down with listeria, speak to a listeria lawyer as soon as you are able.
The people most commonly affected by listeriosis include pregnant women, newborns, individuals with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and cancer patients. Infections rarely become critical, though complications without treatment can result in death. An estimated 2,500 cases of serious listeriosis are reported every year in the United States.
According to data collected by the CDC, there were 26 listeria outbreaks in the United States between 2011 and 2015. During this time, there were 311 illnesses, 281 hospitalizations, and 60 deaths resulting from the various outbreaks.
As shown in the chart below, Massachusetts and New York were involved in the most listeria outbreaks at eight each, while Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Vermont had no involvement throughout the same five-year span.
What Causes Listeriosis?
Bacterium Listeria monocytogenes are found in soil and water, which can, in turn, contaminate vegetables, animals, processed foods, and unpasteurized foods. Animals don’t usually appear ill when infected, so they easily transport the bacteria and can contaminate the food supply around them. Soft cheeses, cold cut meat, and vegetables are the primary vehicles that spread listeriosis, and listeria lawyer Ron Simon has experience in litigating cases involving these foods. Since listeria lives on external surfaces for years until disinfected, entire food processing factories sometimes contaminate food products.
Unlike other strains of bacteria, listeriosis multiplies in foods stored in the refrigerator. Pasteurization and thorough cooking are the most effective methods of killing the bacteria and preventing infection.
Most listeria infections appear sporadically throughout the year; however, foodborne outbreaks can and do occur. Summer may be a prime time for foodborne illness caused by listeria due to certain foods (hot dogs, deli sandwiches, salads) being eaten more frequently during this season. In the same five-year span mentioned above, the summer months of June, July, and August saw 46.2 percent of all outbreaks while the winter months of December, January, and February saw just 7.7 percent.
The common symptoms of listeriosis include muscle aches, fever, and diarrhea. However, if the infection spreads to the nervous system, the symptoms can become more serious. A stiff neck, seizures, the sudden inability to balance, mental confusion, and headache are all symptoms of listeriosis. Your healthcare provider will examine your medical history and the results of your physical exam to determine whether listeria infection is at play. Aside from asking you about the foods you’ve recently consumed, your physician may perform a blood or spinal fluid test to confirm that listeriosis is the cause of your symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with listeriosis and are an otherwise healthy adult, you may not need any special treatment, since the symptoms will disappear on their own within a few weeks. However, if you are pregnant, it’s critical to work with your healthcare provider to keep the baby healthy. Fortunately, babies who are sick with listeriosis can receive the same antibiotics as adults. In the event you or your child contracted listeria, a listeria attorney can help you recover damages if your illness was the result of another party’s negligence, such as a restaurant or food manufacturer.
Implementing basic hygiene practices at home will greatly reduce the likelihood of anyone in your household becoming infected with listeriosis. Actionable steps to prevent listeriosis include, but are not limited to:
Infection in Pregnancy
Pregnant women often experience only mild-flu like illness (CDC, 2011). For unexplained reasons, central nervous system infection is extremely rare during pregnancy in the absence of other factors that put an individual at high risk of infection (Lorber, 2010). However, this does not mean that the fetus is not affected. Infections during pregnancy can also lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, or life-threatening infection of the newborn infant (CDC, 2011).
When bacteremia occurs during pregnancy, it generally manifests as an acute febrile illness (Lorber, 2010). This may be accompanied by symptoms including myalgias, arthralgias, headache, and backache (Lorber, 2010).
Generally, illness occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy (Lorber, 2010). This is most likely due to the fact a major decline in cell-mediated immunity occurs at 26 to 30 weeks gestation (Lorber, 2010).
When a pregnant woman is infected with Listeria, it may cause spontaneous abortion of the fetus, and the fetus may be stillborn or die within hours of a form of listerial infection known as granulomatosis infantiseptica, which involves widespread granulomas and microabscesses (Lorber, 2010). These microabscesses are particularly prevalent in the liver and spleen (Lorber, 2010).
However, listeriosis in infants more commonly manifests in one of two forms: early-onset sepsis syndrome or late-onset meningitis (Lorber, 2010).
Early-onset sepsis syndrome is associated with premature birth and is usually acquired while the fetus is in utero (Lorber, 2010). It occurs less than 5 days after birth, but is generally seen within 2 days (Baltimore, 2007). The mortality rate associated with early-onset neonatal disease is approximately 20-30% (Baltimore, 2007).
Late-onset meningitis occurs about 2 weeks after birth (Lorber, 2010). The epidemiology associated with late-onset neonatal disease is not well understood (Baltimore, 2007). It often occurs in infants that were carried to full term, and the mothers are usually asymptomatic and do not test positive for the bacteria (Baltimore, 2007). If adequately treated, late-onset meningitis has a mortality rate of under 20% (Baltimore, 2007).
Many individuals who go on to develop bacteremia or listerial central nervous system infection have a history of gastrointestinal symptoms (Lorber, 2010). These symptoms often include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, and are often accompanied by a fever (Lorber, 2010). Additional symptoms may include muscle and joint pains (Lorber, 2010). Typically, illness occurs about 24 hours after ingesting a large number of Listeria; however, gastrointestinal symptoms can appear as quickly as 6 hours or as long as 10 days after the initial exposure (Lorber, 2010). Generally, symptoms reside after 1-3 days, though they may last as long as a week (Lorber, 2010).
After the neonatal period, bacteremia with no apparent focus is the most common manifestation of listeriosis (Lorber, 2010). Symptoms generally include fever, myalgias, diarrhea, and nausea (Lorber, 2010). In healthy people, there is a comparatively good chance that blood would not be cultured and the infection would therefore go undetected (Lorber, 2010).
Listerial endocarditis, or the inflammation of the inner lining of the heart, accounts for approximately 7.5% of adult listerial infections (Lorber, 2010). The syndrome produces valve disease in both native and prosthetic valves (Lorber, 2010). Further, listerial endocarditis is associated with a high rate of mortality: 48% of those afflicted do not survive (Lorber, 2010). Children rarely are afflicted (Lorber, 2010).
Central Nervous System Infection
Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) is a rare form of central nervous system listeriosis (Lorber, 2010). An infected individual generally is in a state of altered consciousness or cognitive dysfunction. Rhombencephalitis (brain stem encephalitis, or swelling of the brain stem) is an unusual form of listerial encephalitis. As opposed to other listerial central nervous system infections, rhombencephalitis generally occurs in healthy adults (Lorber, 2010). The illness is biphasic, meaning that it essential comes in two stages. First, there is a period of about four days that involves symptoms including fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting; this is followed by the abrupt onset of cerebellar signs, asymmetrical cranial nerve deficits, and hemisensory deficits and/or hemiparesis (Lorber, 2010). Respiratory failure develops in approximately 40% of rhombencephalitis cases (Lorber, 2010). Associated mortality is high, and many who survive experience serious complications (Lorber, 2010).
About 10% of listerial central nervous system cases involve the formation of microscopic brain abscesses (Lorber, 2010). Like in cases of rhombencephalitis, mortality is high, and many survivors experience serious sequelae (Lorber, 2010).
How is listeriosis detected?
There is no routine screening test for listeriosis during pregnancy, as there is for rubella and some other congenital infections. If you have symptoms such as fever or stiff neck, consult your doctor. A blood or spinal fluid test (to cultivate the bacteria) will show if you have listeriosis. During pregnancy, a blood test is the most reliable way to find out if your symptoms are due to listeriosis.
Listeriosis is especially concerning for women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. To keep you and your young one healthy, it’s crucial to avoid eating hot dogs, deli meats, and luncheon meats until after your pregnancy. Also avoid soft cheeses, unless you double check the label to ensure that it’s made only from pasteurized milk. Cheeses such as feta or Brie are generally made from unpasteurized milk, so it’s critical to avoid those.
By avoiding refrigerated smoked seafood, unpasteurized products, and soft cheeses, you’ll greatly reduce the likelihood of listeriosis infection. Other at-risk populations include the elderly, those with diabetes, or individuals with HIV/AIDS.
Are there additional precautions I can take if I’m in a group at high risk for listeriosis?
In addition to following the general recommendations found above, individuals in high risk groups can decrease their risk for listeriosis by following specific guidelines on how to handle certain foods, as well as by avoiding consumption of particular foods known to be frequent sources of Listeria bacteria.
According to the CDC, when contemplating which meats to consume, and how to handle them, at-risk individuals should:
Additionally, following certain recommendations may keep food safe. These guidelines advise individuals to:
The CDC further advises at risk individuals to avoid soft cheeses including feta, queso blanco, brie, queso fresco, Camembert, panela (queso panela), or blue-veined chesses unless made with pasteurized milk, which should be indicated on the label by the words “MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK” (CDC, 2011).
Finally, the CDC recommends that members of at-risk groups, including pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals, not eat seafood unless it is contained in a cooked dish (for example, a casserole) or is a canned or shelf-stable product (CDC, 2011). Canned and shelf-stable tuna, salmon, and other products are thus generally safe to eat (CDC, 2011).
Can listeriosis be treated?
When infection occurs during pregnancy, antibiotics given promptly to the pregnant woman can often prevent infection of the fetus or newborn (CDC, 2011).
Babies with listeriosis receive the same antibiotics as adults, although a combination of antibiotics is often used until physicians are certain of the diagnosis. Even with prompt treatment, some infections result in death. This is particularly likely in the elderly and in persons with other serious medical problems (CDC, 2011).
Listeriosis is a serious food poisoning issue that negatively impacts public safety. At Ron Simon & Associates, our food poisoning attorneys are passionate about providing the latest news and information concerning food poisoning outbreaks across the nation. If you have any questions about listeriosis or would like to discuss a potential food poisoning case, then contact one of our associates today.