Listeria Outbreak Deadliest In Years: Pregnant Women Especially Vulnerable

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.

As many as 16 people have now died from possible listeria illnesses traced to Colorado cantaloupes, health officials say.  That number would  make the food outbreak the deadliest in more than a decade.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Today that 72  illnesses, including 13 deaths, are linked to the tainted fruit. State  and local officials say they are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected.  The CDC has confirmed two deaths in Texas and  one death each in in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Last week the CDC  reported two deaths in Colorado, four deaths in New Mexico, one in  Oklahoma and one in Maryland.

Listeria is more deadly than more well-known pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, though those outbreaks generally cause many more  illnesses. Twenty-one people died in an outbreak of listeria poisoning  in 1998 traced to contaminated hot dogs and deli meats. Another large listeria  outbreak in 1985 killed 52 people and was linked to Mexican-style soft  cheese.

Listeria generally only sickens the elderly, pregnant women and  others with compromised immune systems. The CDC said last week that the median age of those sickened was 78.

(Click for tips on how to avoid Listeriosis)

As Fox 11 reports “It is also dangerous to pregnant women because it easily passes through to the fetus. Dr. Tauxe of the CDC said the type of listeria linked to the cantaloupes is not one that is commonly associated with pregnancy-associated illnesses, however. State and federal health authorities have not definitively linked any miscarriages, stillbirths or infant illnesses to the current outbreak.”

According BabyCenter.com, though, unless you have some underlying disease that affects your immune  system, it’s unlikely for listeriosis to seriously  affect your health.  However, it can have deadly consequences for your developing baby if you aren’t treated properly.

Listeria can infect the placenta, the amniotic fluid and the baby and can even cause miscarriage or stillbirth.  Infected babies who survive are likely to be born prematurely.  Many will be born severely ill or get sick soon after birth, with  problems that can include blood infection, difficulty breathing, fever,  skin sores, lesions on multiple organs, and central nervous system infections such as meningitis.

Some women have no symptoms, others have a fever and flu-like symptoms like chills, aches and maybe stomach issues.  Call your doctor right away if you suspect you have symptoms.  They generally appear within 48 hours of exposure but can take weeks.  You’ll need a blood test to find out whether your symptoms are caused by listeriosis.

How To Avoid Listeriosis

Cook all meat, poultry, and fish thoroughly. And don’t sample it before it’s done!

Reheat leftovers thoroughly. Because Listeria contamination can also occur after food has already been cooked or processed, and the bacteria can survive.

Avoid deli foods unless you heat them. For the same reason, don’t eat cold cuts or deli meat, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads, or refrigerated smoked or pickled fish unless they’re cooked until they’re steaming hot (say, on a pizza or in a hot sandwich). And even though hot dogs are precooked, be sure to cook them until they’re steaming hot as well.

Avoid prepared salads from delis and supermarkets, especially those containing eggs, chicken, or seafood. Also, you may need to skip that potato salad that’s not on ice at the picnic or meat that’s not kept steaming hot at the buffet.

Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk. That includes both cow and goat’s milk and food made with them. Don’t eat soft cheese such as feta, Brie, or Camembert; blue-veined cheese; or Mexican-style cheese such as queso blanco, queso fresco, or panela, unless the label clearly states that it’s made from pasteurized milk. Cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, processed cheese (such as American), and hard cheese (such as cheddar and Parmesan) are generally considered safe, as are cultured dairy products like yogurt and buttermilk. Read the labels!  Make sure they’re made with pasteurized milk.

Wash all produce. Thoroughly wash or peel all fruits and vegetables before eating them.

Avoid sprouts. You might choose to forgo raw sprouts until after your pregnancy. (Alfalfa sprouts caused an outbreak of listeriosis in March 2008.)

Clean sponges and dishcloths regularly. Keep in mind that dishcloths and sponges can harbor bacteria. Wash dishcloths regularly in hot water, and clean any sponges in the dishwasher or microwave. Dry clean dishes, utensils, surfaces, and your hands with a clean dishtowel or use a paper towel.

Don’t keep food around too long. Consume perishable and ready-to-eat food as soon as possible after you buy it, especially once you’ve opened it even if it hasn’t yet passed the “use by” date. This date refers to unopened products.

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