Listeria in Pregnant Women
Listeria monocytogenes is a type of pathogenic bacteria which can cause Listeriosis, a serious infection generally transmitted through contaminated food. Those most at risk to contract serious onset of Listeriosis are the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and especially pregnant women. The CDC reports that pregnant women are 10 times more likely to contract Listeriosis than other people. However, studies show that Listeriosis is much more dangerous for the child than the mother. In many cases, pregnant women contract Listeriosis with very minor outward symptoms, while the infection seriously attacks the child in utero, sometimes leading to miscarriage, stillbirth, or newborn deaths. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that with 1,600 cases of illness and 260 consequential deaths per year, Listeriosis is the third leading cause of death by food poisoning in the U.S.; a portion of these deaths being that of newborns who contracted Listeriosis within the womb. In 1985, a monumental food poisoning outbreak occurred in Los Angeles County, due to a Listeria contamination in Queso fresco, a soft Mexican cheese. This outbreak caused 142 cases of illness, killed 10 newborns and 18 adults, and induced 20 miscarriages. This heartbreaking outbreak remains one of the most deadly that the U.S. has ever experienced.
Why are pregnant women so much more likely to contract listeriosis?
Listeria monocytogenes is a unique type of bacteria because of its intracellular life cycle. It is able to use certain foods as its host cells in order to enter the body. Once contaminated food is consumed, the bacteria (Listeria) is phagocytosed (ingested) by the gastrointestinal cells.This process allows listeria monocytogenes to enter into the cytoplasm of the gastrointestinal cells where it can begin to multiply and invade the the cells’ membrane. In this discrete process, the bacteria is able to invade and control the gastrointestinal tract without ever coming into contact with the body’s antibodies, neutrophils, or antibiotics in the extracellular fluid. For this reason, pregnant women generally experience mild symptoms, if they are not completely asymptomatic. However, the child in utero, due to its location in the women’s body and its fragility, comes under attack once the bacteria begins to invade the cell membrane of the uterus. In healthy individuals, cell-mediated immunity protects against intracellular pathogens like Listeria, through lymphocyte recognition of these foreign antigens, without the use of the other antibodies. The reason Listeria monocytogenes are able to progress to this point in pregnant women is due to the fact that cell-mediated immunity is locally decreased at the maternal-fetal interface because of hormonal changes during pregnancy.
For these reasons, Listeriosis can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Therefore, it is imperative to prevent the consumption of Listeria contaminated foods, particularly in pregnant women. Food safety officials and obstetricians have compiled a list of the most common foods to avoid eating while pregnant. These include processed meats like hot dogs, lunch meats, as well as milk products, such as milk and cheeses. For a complete list of foods to avoid and other necessary precautions, visit the FDA’s website.
According to Listeria Lawsuit Lawyer Ron Simon:
“the hardest part of listeria, apart from the harm it can cause to pregnant women, is the difficulty in testing for Listeria. A placentae culture or a cerebral spinal fluid culture are often required for an accurate diagnosis.”