Listeriosis is a bacterial infection spread through contaminated food. While it's not as well-known as salmonella, botulism, or E. coli, it can be just as dangerous, sometimes even more so, in more serious cases. In fact, if you contract listeriosis, you're more likely to require a hospital stay than with any other food-borne illness.
Listeriosis is most often found in undercooked meat, lunch meat, unpasteurized milk, and some soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. If you have immunity issues or are pregnant, it's recommended that you reheat lunch meat or hot dogs before eating to destroy any possible listeria bacteria.
Like many food-borne illnesses, listeriosis is much more dangerous for infants, children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. It's also a particular danger for pregnant women.
While most food-borne illnesses show symptoms within eight to twelve hours of consuming the infected food, listeriosis can sometimes take days or even weeks. In fact, the average incubation period of listeria bacteria is three weeks. Symptoms include the stomach and digestive upset typical of food-borne illnesses, but can also manifest as flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches and chills. More serious cases of
listeriosis can settle in the nervous system and lead to meningitis, encephalitis, or other infections of the brain and nervous tissue. This is particularly applicable to those with suppressed immunity-though doctors don't know why, the listeria bacteria tend to thrive in the nervous system of immuno-depressed victims.
In pregnant women, listeriosis can present as a flu-like illness which doesn't seem particularly serious, but which can be very serious to the unborn baby. In fact, the baby is more likely to suffer from the illness than the mother. The baby can be born extremely ill, or the pregnancy can end in miscarriage or stillbirth in more serious cases. This is particularly worrisome, since the mother shows such mild symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose a case of listeriosis that could have devastating effects on an unborn child.
The best way to deal with listeriosis is to avoid it entirely. Be sure to cook meat thoroughly before eating. Avoid soft cheeses, and reheat hot dogs and lunch meat before consuming. Smoked fish can also carry listeria bacteria, as can unpasteurized milk. If you're pregnant and experience flu-like symptoms, consult your doctor to be sure exactly what's causing the symptoms. Early treatment can make a vital difference.
Careful cooking and commonsense hygiene in the kitchen can prevent a number of food-borne illnesses, so be sure to always take precautions when handling raw meat, raw vegetables, and other food items that are more likely to carry dangerous bacteria, and your chances of catching
listeriosis or any other food-borne illness will be drastically reduced.