Listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, and infiltrates the lining of the intestines with the possibility of spreading to the brain and spinal cord, resulting in meningitis. Listeriosis can most often be found in contaminated foods such as meat and vegetables, and tends to affect babies and the elderly as well as people who have poor immune systems. This bacterial infection is also quite deadly, killing one person out of every five who contract the disease. However, the rate of infection in humans is very low. Listeriosis is also very prevalent in animals, and is a common occurrence on farms.
Although the bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, is actually all around us in the environment, the most prevalent way a person catches the bacterial infection is through consuming food that has been contaminated with the bacteria. While most adults who are healthy can easily eat the contaminated foods and never show any ill effects, people such as the elderly and infants can get sick by eating food with only a few of the bacteria on it. Furthermore, infants can be born having the infection if the mother has consumed contaminated foods during the pregnancy. The bacteria itself is often found in water as well as soil, and thus vegetables can get contaminated through the soil they’re grown in or else from water sprayed over the vegetables. To complicate matters, animals such as cattle can carry the bacteria and never show any ill effects. So, the beef or the dairy from these animals can easily be contaminated and passed on to the consumer. Unpasteurized milk as also been known to carry the listeria bacteria.
As mentioned above, Listeriosis primarily affects infants and the elderly, as well as those with weak immune systems, and so rarely will a healthy adult get the infection. Some of the more common symptoms of the disease however, are fever and diarrhea, other stomach issues, and severe muscle pain. Also, people affected by the infection will almost always get a secondary infection somewhere else in the body as the bacteria travels from the stomach to the other bodily areas. Additionally, it should be noted that depending on the person, symptoms will vary. For example, if you are pregnant and have Listeriosis, you can expect a mild fever, with the possibility of premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth. For those who are at a high-risk of the infection, but who aren’t pregnant, symptoms may include headaches, fever, muscle pain, a stiff neck, convulsions, confusion, and problems with balance. Finally, for those who are otherwise healthy, symptoms can present themselves if exposed to large doses of the bacteria, and thus symptoms can include a fever and diarrhea.
One of the best ways to manage Listeriosis is to prevent it. A few easy preventive measures to follow are: always cook meat thoroughly and wash vegetables before consuming, avoid unpasteurized dairy goods, and always make sure to wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces after you’ve handled uncooked meat and vegetables. Furthermore, if you are considered an at-risk person (pregnant, elderly, or with an otherwise weak immune system), try to avoid foods such as soft cheeses (i.e feta and Brie), cold cuts at a deli counter, and be sure to cook any left-overs or prepared foods, such as hot dogs, very thoroughly. If you have been infected with the bacteria, antibiotics such as Ampicillin is the usual method of treatment with all populations – even infants. However, if the infection spreads throughout the body, certain durations of antibiotic treatments will be used depending upon the type of complication. For instance, if the person contracts meningitis, antibiotics should be used for three weeks, for a brain abscess a six week course is used, and for Bacteremia, two weeks of antibiotics will suffice.