Listeria in Pregnancy: What are the Symptoms?

You always hear how important it is to eat healthy while pregnant, then you read about recalled foods contaminated with Listeria. Naturally, you may wonder what the symptoms of Listeria are and what Listeria itself is. A basic understanding of this organism can save your pregnancy and your baby.

Key takeaways:
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    Listeria is a bacteria that can spread from food, soil, kitchen utensils, and food preparation appliances.
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    Those at high risk are pregnant women, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system.
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    Listeria can survive even in the refrigerator; however, high temperatures can kill it.
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    Pregnant women should not consume raw meats or unpasteurized items and should avoid ready-to-eat meals unless able to heat up to steaming.

What is listeria

Listeria is a bacteria that can make you ill when ingested by humans. This bacteria is known as Listeria monocytogenes and is common in moist environments, such as in the dirt on the ground or raw meat. Animals can even carry it. To kill it, you must cook foods at extremely high temperatures or use cleaning products on surfaces.

The term used when people get sick from Listeria is called Listeriosis. People typically get sick when eating foods contaminated with the bacteria or even from handling foods with Listeria bacteria. This bacteria can be found on kitchen surfaces and utensils if not cleaned properly.

Usually, you would think that putting foods in the refrigerator is safe, and while that is mostly true, the bacteria can still grow in cold temperatures. Due to its ability to survive in cold temperatures, pre-packaged and ready-to-eat meals are likely to be contaminated after factory processing.

As the prepared food sits in the factories, then awaits transport to stores, it ends up sitting in the store for more time, and the bacteria then have the potential to duplicate and get more extensive in numbers. The more significant the bacteria present, the higher the severity of the sickness.

Listeria symptoms

Listeria infections can cause various symptoms depending on the individual and whether they are considered high risk. Most of the time, the symptoms will show up a few hours after ingesting the bacteria for up to a few days. Also, be aware that it is possible to develop symptoms up to two months after consuming the contaminated food.

Some general symptoms of this disease are:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Severe symptoms include the following:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions

If you think you are having any of these symptoms, you must have a conversation with your doctor. Getting an official diagnosis is essential for preventing further complications for yourself as well as linking the contaminated food to prevent or decrease the outbreak to others.

Do listeria symptoms differ during pregnancy

The symptoms of getting sick from Listeria during pregnancy can be vague and represent the typical symptoms of pregnancy. Generally speaking, look out for things like chills, headaches, muscle aches, excessive nausea, vomiting, or a fever.

Maintaining routine follow-ups with your obstetrician is imperative to monitor the baby's health and to ensure that you are following all the recommended foods during this delicate time.

What foods carry listeriosis

The Listeria bacteria is a tricky organism, and transmission can happen easily. You should only eat foods that have been through the pasteurization process. During the pasteurization process, the food gets heated to a specific temperature which would, in turn, kill the bacteria. If you are consuming unpasteurized foods, you could ingest an item contaminated by bacteria.

A list of foods to avoid are:

  • Unpasteurized milk.
  • Certain cheeses like brie, feta, camembert, and blue-veined cheeses.
  • Raw meat, including smoked seafood.
  • Ready-to-eat foods like hot dogs and deli meat.
  • Raw fruits and vegetables, unless cooked, because the soil could have contaminated while growing.

Who is at risk?

Some individuals might consume the bacteria and never even know it. There is a particular population of individuals at a higher risk of contracting this disease and who could become seriously ill. Those considered high risks are:

  • People who are pregnant
  • Those individuals over the age of 65
  • People who already have a weak immune system
  • Newborns

What if I get Listeria while pregnant?

Pregnant women do not show many symptoms of Listeriosis, so making a diagnosis can be challenging. Some pregnant women have reported feeling like they were getting the flu with fever, headache, diarrhea, and more exhaustion than usual.

Some potential consequences of getting Listeria while pregnant are the result of vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to things like dehydration. Other possible concerns are more severe, including the potential for miscarriage and preterm labor, or even stillbirth.

If you have any concerning symptoms, you should discuss them with your obstetrician. There are ways to diagnose this condition through testing your blood, urine sample, and also through fluid in the spinal cord.

Is there a risk for the baby?

Unfortunately, getting Listeriosis during pregnancy can harm the fetus, so prevention is critical for this high-risk population. In the first trimester of pregnancy, a miscarriage could result. Severe cases in the third trimester can lead to stillbirths.

Not every single baby born from an infected mother will have lasting effects, although it is essential for you to be aware of the possibilities. Meningitis is reportedly common, and other possible complications are a blood infection, pneumonia, learning disabilities, or problems with other vital organs in the body.

Here are the key steps you should take to prevent Listeria:

  1. Do not eat unpasteurized drinks or foods.
  2. Avoid eating deli meats and hot dogs unless cooked to a temperature of at least 165 degrees F.
  3. Rinse all produce and vegetables before even placing them in storage.
  4. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds before and after touching raw foods.
  5. Separate raw foods away from other foods.
  6. If the item comes into contact with raw food, consider it contaminated and throw it away or wash it well if it is reusable.
  7. Do not eat raw or smoked seafood.
  8. Soft cheeses get made with unpasteurized milk, and pregnant women should not eat them.
  9. Be sure to cook your food thoroughly to kill the listeria bacteria, and reheat leftovers to where the food is visibly steaming.
  10. Avoid foods that have been made ready to eat unless you can cook them too steamy and hot.
  11. Remember your kitchen hygiene and make sure your refrigerator, kitchen utensils, and appliances are clean.

Make sure to read food labels to look for the phrase "made with pasteurized milk." Practice safe hand hygiene and avoid sampling foods while pregnant since you cannot control how anyone prepares the food.

Listeria treatment options

Treating pregnant women exposed to Listeria is often based on whether or not they have any symptoms. If you have been exposed to the bacteria and are not having symptoms, you will most likely be asked to monitor yourself and notify your doctor if you develop any concerning symptoms.

Pregnant women with mild symptoms such as slight nausea and diarrhea might need to have their blood drawn if they come into contact with something that has the bacteria. Resting and trying to stay hydrated will help to ease the side effects of the mild symptoms.

Pregnant women who have a fever and have been exposed to Listeria, regardless of having symptoms or not, will most likely be given antibiotics. Your doctor will also order a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Pregnant women need to be treated for Listeriosis to prevent fetal infection.