Are You Pregnant? Avoid Getting Listeria Bacteria


By Joy Stephenson-Laws and the pH health care professionals

You have probably heard of food recalls from your local and national news. These announcements warn us not to buy and consume certain foods or products in grocery stores due to contamination with Listeria, a bacterial infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. This infection typically stems from eating contaminated food, resulting in an illness called listeriosis.

This happened not too long ago, when a multi-state outbreak of Listeria occurred with the contamination of a soft, raw milk cheese from Vulto Creamery. There were two deaths believed to be caused by this contamination, and according to a CNN report, there were six hospitalizations in Connecticut, Florida, New York and Vermont. The report recommends if you buy a product or type of food that has been recalled, you should throw it away immediately, wash your hands and even wash out your refrigerator if you stored the item there.   

Pregnant women, newborns, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk for the infection. If the infection occurs during pregnancy, Listeria bacteria can spread to the baby through the placenta. In pregnant women, the infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor and even death.

Tragically, retired MMA fighter Chael Sonnen and his wife lost their newborn daughter to listeriosis. While pregnant, Sonnen’s wife Brittany became very ill, and despite multiple ER and doctor visits the couple was told Sonnen’s wife was just extremely dehydrated. Later, Sonnen’s wife went into premature labor, and their newborn daughter died just four days later.

Sonnen’s summary of his experience is worth noting:

“Brittany was sick and we kept going to the doctors, we were at three different emergency rooms and four doctors in total. And they kept telling us it’s dehydration and they kept putting an IV in her and rehydrating her and finally I had to get big and strong and I told the doctor, look nobody knows more about hydration than me not even you doctors you guys don’t ever see dehydration. I come from the one and only field where you have to make weight before you can do your job. If you tried to weigh anybody in any other form of society before you let them work you’d be sued, I know all about dehydration, I wrote a book about dehydration, I said this is not a dehydrated woman, we have to stop with that…there has to be another diagnosis. They put an IV in her. They gave her another liter of saline and it was just so frustrating. And we finally got to the hospital when Blauna was born and the doctors ran a test and she has listeria. And had we known that the whole thing could have been prevented and I don’t blame anybody, but it was very frustrating to just keep being told dehydration."

According to the CDC, listeriosis manifests itself as a mild illness in pregnant women but has severe consequences for the baby who may either die before birth or within a few days after the birth.  

Sonnen is not sure how his wife contracted listeriosis. The reports indicate they hired a lawyer to investigate whether his wife consumed contaminated food that caused her to contract the infection.      

The infection can also be very life-threatening for the elderly. Older adults (65 and up) who contract listeriosis may develop sepsis in their bloodstream or even meningitis or encephalitis in the brain. The infection can also affect bones, joints and areas of the chest and abdomen, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

Symptoms, which can vary from mid to severe, may include:

  • Fever (other flu-like symptoms)
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache, stiff neck, loss of balance, convulsions and confusion/loss of alertness (if infection spreads to nervous system)
  • Uninterested in feeding, irritability, fever and vomiting (for newborns)

How is listeriosis treated?

Listeriosis is typically diagnosed with a bacterial culture (a lab test) from body tissue or fluid (blood, spinal fluid or placenta). It is treated with antibiotics. Most people with invasive listeriosis need to be hospitalized, and about one in five die according to the CDC. So it’s critical  you don’t “wait it out” at home. Take the “better safe than sorry” approach!

How can listeriosis be prevented?

The CDC recommends the following:

  • Put leftovers in the fridge within 2 hours in shallow, covered containers, and use within three to four days.
  • Make sure your fridge is 40 degrees fahrenheit or lower and your freezer is 0 degrees fahrenheit or lower.
  • Avoid drinking raw, unpasteurized milk or eating soft cheeses (like queso fresco). Make sure the label on your soft cheese says it was made with pasteurized milk.
  • Heat hot dogs and deli meats until steaming hot before eating. Store opened packages no longer than a week and unopened packages no longer than two weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Be proactive to avoid cross-contamination in your fridge and kitchen. Don’t let any juices from hot dogs or lunch meats get on other foods, utensils or food prep surfaces. Wash your hands after handling meat.
  • Store factory-sealed, unopened packages no longer than two weeks and opened packages and meat sliced at the deli no longer than three to five days in the refrigerator.
  • Eat cut melon right away or put in your fridge. Keep it for no more than seven days. If it was left at room temperature for more than four hours, throw it away.

People at a higher risk, such as pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems should be extra vigilant in their prevention efforts and completely avoid eating soft cheeses (unless they are labeled made with pasteurized milk), sprouts (which require warm and humid conditions to grow, ideal for bacteria to flourish) unless thoroughly cooked, deli meats and hot dogs (unless thoroughly cooked or microwaved until steaming) and refrigerated smoked seafood (unless  canned, shelf-stable or if cooked in a dish).

In the meantime, be proactive about ensuring that you have a strong immune system. Read here for information on how to boost your immune system.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.


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