Listeria, “Listeria Monocytogenes,” is a bacterium responsible for an estimated 1,600 illnesses each year in the United States. Of the estimated number of cases, approximately 260 of those end in fatality. Outbreaks in 2011 and 2012 have been widespread among multiple states arising from widely distributed food sources. Listeria can grow in cold temperatures; even properly refrigerated foods can become contaminated.
Symptoms of Listeria infection are flu-like in nature. Symptoms usually begin with diarrhea, but can also include fever, body aches, headaches, stiffness in the neck, loss of balance, disorientation and convulsions. Other gastrointestinal problems may develop from Listeria exposure as well, such as a general irritation of the digestive tract. However, in healthy individuals, no symptoms may develop despite infection.
Symptoms of Listeria infection usually arise twenty-four hours after ingestion and may persist for two days in healthy individuals. Individuals who are prone to infection may have longer lasting and more complicated symptoms. Listeria can be treated with antibiotics, and antibiotic treatment may be required for individuals falling into one of the high-risk groups described below. Some complications are especially hazardous for pregnant women. Pregnant women should be particularly careful to guard themselves against exposure to contaminated foods, as infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and a possible life-threatening development of infection in a newborn.