Listeria can cause a host of problems for your pregnancy and your newborn baby. But avoiding a few basic food items can greatly reduce your chances of becoming infected with this bacteria.
Most pregnant people fall into 1 of 2 categories: Some are hyper-vigilant and follow all the “rules” of pregnancy and avoid anything that could possibly cause harm to their baby—however remote the possibility.
Others acknowledge that women have birthed healthy babies for centuries, often with no prenatal care and without the medical advances and scientific knowledge we have today, so they believe it’s okay to indulge in some things that the pregnancy books advise against.
However, there’s also a gray area in between. Some of us would never smoke a cigarette while pregnant, but we’d be okay with a little deli meat here and there.
But there’s one thing to keep in mind before you eat that deli sandwich or smear some soft cheese on a cracker: Listeria.
What is listeria?
Listeriosis is a foodborne illness caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. It can infect someone who eats food with that bacteria. Most people don’t fall ill from listeria, but it can be very serious for a pregnant person, someone older than 65, or someone with a weakened immune system.
Even though a healthy pregnant woman might not become ill from listeria, it could be fatal to her unborn baby. If a woman becomes infected with listeria during pregnancy, it increases her risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, preterm delivery and infant death.
What foods could be contaminated with listeria?
The most common sources of listeria in food include:
- Undercooked hot dogs, sausages and poultry
- Deli meat
- Fresh vegetables
- Fresh fruit (particularly melon)
- Raw or smoked fish and seafood
- Unpasteurized dairy products, such as milk and cheese
Listeria survives and thrives in low temperatures, which means it lives in the refrigerator or freezer. You can usually tell if food is spoiled because its taste, smell or texture is different. But what makes listeria especially dangerous is that it doesn’t change the appearance or smell of food, so it’s impossible to know if it’s contaminated.
What are the symptoms of listeriosis?
Symptoms of listeriosis are different based on who you are (pregnant, not pregnant or a newborn).
General symptoms of listeria
Typical symptoms of listeria affecting the general population include:
- Flu-like symptoms like muscle aches and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
- Convulsions (uncontrolled muscle movements)
Symptoms of listeria in pregnancy
Pregnant women who become infected with listeria often experience only mild symptoms such as:
- Muscle aches
Without prompt treatment, listeria can quickly lead to stillbirth, miscarriage or preterm delivery.
Symptoms of listeria in newborn babies
Symptoms of listeria in newborns include:
- Constant crying
- Unwillingness to eat
- Rapid breathing, short breaths and wheezing
Babies who contract listeria in the womb during late pregnancy may survive but develop problems that can include:
- Brain, heart or kidney impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Blood infections
Listeria infection can occur at any time during pregnancy but is most common during the last trimester when a pregnant woman’s immune system is naturally suppressed.
Hispanic women might have a somewhat higher risk of listeriosis than other populations, possibly because of certain foods popular in their cultures. Homemade soft cheese, known as queso fresco, is in many Hispanic foods and is often made from unpasteurized milk.
How many pregnant women get listeriosis annually?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 1,600 people in the U.S. get listeriosis each year, resulting in around 260 deaths. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to become ill from listeria bacteria than the rest of the population.
How is listeriosis diagnosed and treated during pregnancy?
If your doctor suspects that you may be experiencing symptoms of listeriosis, they should promptly perform a blood test to confirm a diagnosis. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the standard treatment is antibiotics, such as ampicillin, given intravenously (through an IV).
Prompt antibiotic treatment of a pregnant mother could reduce the risk of her baby becoming ill with listeriosis.
However, the best way to protect yourself and your baby from listeria bacteria is to prevent infection in the first place by being mindful of the food you consume. Be sure to wash, cook and prepare it properly, according to the CDC’s best practices for food preparation.
Do you need a birth injury lawyer?
If your baby suffered serious health issues after being infected with listeria, it might not necessarily be the doctor’s fault. However, it is the doctor’s responsibility to promptly diagnose and treat any illness during pregnancy. If your doctor failed to recognize the symptoms of listeria, run the appropriate tests, supply a diagnosis, and provide safe and appropriate treatment, they could be liable.
If you believe your child suffered a birth injury because a doctor failed to diagnose or properly manage listeriosis during pregnancy, contact the Brown Trial Firm. Laura Brown has years of experience in birth injury law, helping families like yours all across the U.S. get the compensation they deserve.
Contact her today for a free consultation of your case.
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