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Listeriosis (Listeria) and Pregnancy

Listeria is a type of bacteria found in soil, water, and sometimes on plants. Though Listeria is all around our environment, most Listeria infections in people are from eating contaminated foods.

Photo: Hot dog

Listeriosis can be passed to an unborn baby through the placenta even if the mother is not showing signs of illness. This can lead to:

  • Premature delivery
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Serious health problems for the newborn

Prevention

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide the following advice for pregnant women:

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk.
    • It is safe to eat hard cheeses, semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella, pasteurized processed cheese slices and spreads, cream cheese, and cottage cheese.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spreads.
    • It is safe to eat canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish such as a casserole. Examples of refrigerated smoked seafood include salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel which are most often labeled as "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky." This fish is found in the refrigerated section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens.
    • It is safe to eat canned fish such as salmon and tuna or shelf-stable smoked seafood.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
  • Use all refrigerated perishable items that are precooked or ready-to-eat as soon as possible.
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly.
  • Use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure that the refrigerator always stays at 40 °F or below.

Symptoms

Because the symptoms of listeriosis can take a few days or even weeks to appear and can be mild, you may not even know you have it. This is why it's very important to take appropriate food safety precautions during pregnancy.

In pregnant women, listeriosis may cause flu-like symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach


If the infection spreads to the nervous system, the symptoms may include:

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


Consult a doctor or health care provider if you have these symptoms. A blood test can be performed to find out if your symptoms are caused by listeriosis.

Treatment

If you have eaten food contaminated with Listeria and do not have any symptoms, most experts believe you don’t need any tests or treatment, even if you are pregnant.

However, you should tell your physician or health care provider if you are pregnant and have eaten the contaminated food, and within 2 months experience flu-like symptoms.

During pregnancy, antibiotics are given to treat listeriosis in the mother. In most cases, the antibiotics also prevent infection of the fetus or newborn. Antibiotics are also given to babies who are born with listeriosis.

For More Information

Food Safety and Inspection Service Meat and Poultry Hotline
1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
TTY: 1-800-256-7072

CDC Food Safety
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)
8am-8pm ET/Monday-Friday

U. S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition
1-888-SAFEFOOD

Gateway to Government Food Safety Information

Partnership for Food Safety Education

International Food Information Council ( IFIC) Foundation

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