Listeriosis in Pregnancy

Listeriosis is an infection caused by consuming food contaminated with the bacteria listeria. Listeria can sometimes be found in decaying vegetation, soil and animal excrement.

It is estimated that one in 20 people may carry listeria, but show no symptoms of listeriosis. Infected people can produce contaminated stools. Listeria can be spread this way if the carrier doesn’t wash their hand after using the toilet, and then handles food.

In most people, listeriosis is a mild condition with flu-like symptoms. It will usually last around three to five days, and requires no treatment. In rare cases, listeriosis can cause meningitis. Pregnant women should be particularly concerned about listeriosis because it can have serious consequences for the developing baby.

Preventing listeriosis

People with weak immune systems, such as pregnant women, are more likely to contract listeriosis. Pregnant women are thought to be 20 times more likely to develop listeriosis compared with the rest of the population. There are a number of steps you can take to decrease your risk of catching this infection:

  • Avoid unpasteurised dairy products
  • Avoid mould-ripened soft cheese
  • Avoid all types of pates – including vegetable pate
  • Avoid pre-packed sandwiches
  • Avoid cooked sliced meats
  • Avoid smoked salmon
  • Always wash fruit and vegetables before eating them
  • Always cook food thoroughly
  • Always wash your hands before and after handling food
  • Do not eat out of date foods
  • Wash cooking utensils and surfaces thoroughly before each use
  • Set your fridge and freezer to the recommended temperature
  • Avoid contact with sheep, particularly during lambing season

Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

If you become infected with listeriosis, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • diarrhea
  • tiredness
  • fever or chills
  • nausea
  • general flu-like symptoms

It is important that you contact your healthcare provider immediately if you think you may have contracted listeriosis. A blood test will be used to confirm the diagnosis, and then you will be treated with antibiotics.

Will listeriosis harm my baby?

If treated, listeriosis should not affect your baby. You may be offered an ultrasound to check that your baby has not become infected. If left untreated however, listeriosis can be a serious condition for the baby. Untreated listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, preterm birth and stillbirth. Around one in five pregnancy-related listeriosis cases will end in the death of the baby. Listeriosis can also put your baby at risk of developing other illnesses including jaundice and meningitis.

If you are concerned about listeriosis, speak to your healthcare provider.

Written by Fiona (@Fiona_Peacock), mother, writer and lover of all things baby related.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2018. All rights reserved.