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Listeria


Image: CDC

Listeria is a rare but potentially life-threatening disease. Healthy adults are likely to experience only mild infection, causing flu-like symptoms or gastroenteritis. However, listeria infection can occasionally lead to severe blood poisoning (septicaemia) or meningitis.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to listeria. It is particularly dangerous in pregnancy as although the illness is unlikely to be serious for the mother, it can cause miscarriage, premature delivery or severe illness in a newborn child.

Listeria is an unusual bacterium because it can grow at low temperatures, including refrigeration temperatures of below 5°C. It is, however, killed by cooking food thoroughly and by pasteurisation. Foods most likely to be contaminated with listeria are soft cheeses, cold cuts of meat, pâtés and smoked fish, or ready meals which have been pre-cooked and then chilled for some time before consumption.

Clinical information

Incubation period:
Variable, 3 to 70 days.

Common clinical features:
Influenza-like illness or meningo-encephalitis/septicaemia; spontaneous abortion. Maternal infections can be asymptomatic.

Reservoir:
Environment, cattle, sheep, soil, silage. The bacterium has been isolated from a range of raw foods including vegetables and uncooked meats as well as processed foods. A wide range of food products have been implicated in outbreaks including soft cheeses and meat based patés. Commonly carried in the human gut.

Transmission:
The majority of cases are believed to be foodborne. Some cases by direct contact with animals. Mother to foetus in utero or during birth or via person to person spread between infants shortly after delivery.

Unborn infants, neonates, immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women and the elderly are at high risk. Cases are usually divided into those associated with pregnancy (mother-foetus and mother-neonate cases) and non pregnancy associated cases - all cases aged 1 month and over.


Image: CDC

Listeria is a rare but potentially life-threatening disease. Healthy adults are likely to experience only mild infection, causing flu-like symptoms or gastroenteritis. However, listeria infection can occasionally lead to severe blood poisoning (septicaemia) or meningitis.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to listeria. It is particularly dangerous in pregnancy as although the illness is unlikely to be serious for the mother, it can cause miscarriage, premature delivery or severe illness in a newborn child.

Listeria is an unusual bacterium because it can grow at low temperatures, including refrigeration temperatures of below 5°C. It is, however, killed by cooking food thoroughly and by pasteurisation. Foods most likely to be contaminated with listeria are soft cheeses, cold cuts of meat, pâtés and smoked fish, or ready meals which have been pre-cooked and then chilled for some time before consumption.

Clinical information

Incubation period:
Variable, 3 to 70 days.

Common clinical features:
Influenza-like illness or meningo-encephalitis/septicaemia; spontaneous abortion. Maternal infections can be asymptomatic.

Reservoir:
Environment, cattle, sheep, soil, silage. The bacterium has been isolated from a range of raw foods including vegetables and uncooked meats as well as processed foods. A wide range of food products have been implicated in outbreaks including soft cheeses and meat based patés. Commonly carried in the human gut.

Transmission:
The majority of cases are believed to be foodborne. Some cases by direct contact with animals. Mother to foetus in utero or during birth or via person to person spread between infants shortly after delivery.

Unborn infants, neonates, immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women and the elderly are at high risk. Cases are usually divided into those associated with pregnancy (mother-foetus and mother-neonate cases) and non pregnancy associated cases - all cases aged 1 month and over.

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