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Diseases & Topics

Listeriosis

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which is found naturally in soil and water. Older people, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems are especially at risk for serious illness from listeriosis.

The bacterium has been found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts at the deli counter. Unpasteurized (raw) milk and cheeses, or foods made from unpasteurized milk may also contain the bacterium. Listeria is killed by pasteurization and cooking; however, in certain ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs and deli meats, contamination may occur after cooking but before packaging. The risk of listeriosis may be reduced by following a few simple recommendations, including safe food-handling practices and avoiding certain foods if you are in the high-risk group.

A person with listeriosis has fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.

Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn.

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