What Is Listeria?
Listeriosis is an infection that causes fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, and muscle aches. It’s caused by the consumption of food contaminated by bacterium Listeria monocytogenes and is considered a public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though medical advancements and public awareness have reduced the number of listeriosis cases, outbreaks continue to occur. If you or somebody you love came down with listeria, speak to a listeria lawyer as soon as you are able.
The people most commonly affected by listeriosis include pregnant women, newborns, individuals with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and cancer patients. Infections rarely become critical, though complications without treatment can result in death. An estimated 2,500 cases of serious listeriosis are reported every year in the United States.
According to data collected by the CDC, there were 26 listeria outbreaks in the United States between 2011 and 2015. During this time, there were 311 illnesses, 281 hospitalizations, and 60 deaths resulting from the various outbreaks.
Listeria Outbreaks, Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths per Year (2011-2015)
States Involved in the Most Listeria Outbreaks
As shown in the chart below, Massachusetts and New York were involved in the most listeria outbreaks at eight each, while Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Vermont had no involvement throughout the same five-year span.
Listeria Outbreaks per State (2011-2015)
What Causes Listeriosis?
Bacterium Listeria monocytogenes are found in soil and water, which can, in turn, contaminate vegetables, animals, processed foods, and unpasteurized foods. Animals don’t usually appear ill when infected, so they easily transport the bacteria and can contaminate the food supply around them. Soft cheeses, cold cut meat, and vegetables are the primary vehicles that spread listeriosis, and listeria lawyer Ron Simon has experience in litigating cases involving these foods. Since listeria lives on external surfaces for years until disinfected, entire food processing factories sometimes contaminate food products.
Unlike other strains of bacteria, listeriosis multiplies in foods stored in the refrigerator. Pasteurization and thorough cooking are the most effective methods of killing the bacteria and preventing infection.
Most listeria infections appear sporadically throughout the year; however, foodborne outbreaks can and do occur. Summer may be a prime time for foodborne illness caused by listeria due to certain foods (hot dogs, deli sandwiches, salads) being eaten more frequently during this season. In the same five-year span mentioned above, the summer months of June, July, and August saw 46.2 percent of all outbreaks while the winter months of December, January, and February saw just 7.7 percent.
Listeria Outbreaks, Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths per Month (2011-2015)
How Do I Know If I Have Listeriosis?
The common symptoms of listeriosis include muscle aches, fever, and diarrhea. However, if the infection spreads to the nervous system, the symptoms can become more serious. A stiff neck, seizures, the sudden inability to balance, mental confusion, and headache are all symptoms of listeriosis. Your healthcare provider will examine your medical history and the results of your physical exam to determine whether listeria infection is at play. Aside from asking you about the foods you’ve recently consumed, your physician may perform a blood or spinal fluid test to confirm that listeriosis is the cause of your symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with listeriosis and are an otherwise healthy adult, you may not need any special treatment, since the symptoms will disappear on their own within a few weeks. However, if you are pregnant, it’s critical to work with your healthcare provider to keep the baby healthy. Fortunately, babies who are sick with listeriosis can receive the same antibiotics as adults. In the event you or your child contracted listeria, a listeria attorney can help you recover damages if your illness was the result of another party’s negligence, such as a restaurant or food manufacturer.
How Can I Prevent Listeria?
Implementing basic hygiene practices at home will greatly reduce the likelihood of anyone in your household becoming infected with listeriosis. Actionable steps to prevent listeriosis include, but are not limited to:
- Smart shopping – if you’re purchasing raw meat, fish, or vegetables, be sure to bag them separately from other items. If foods are stored separately, you reduce the risk of contamination.
- Safe food preparation – be sure to wash your hands before and after preparing food. It’s also important to rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water. If you’re handling both meats and vegetables, use two separate cutting boards.
- Store foods accordingly – follow the directions on the labels to keep the food refrigerated, frozen, or stored properly. This also helps prevent the growth of other unwanted bacteria. If you’re unsure whether food is safe to eat, follow the rule of thumb: when in doubt, throw it out.
Listeria and Pregnancy
Listeriosis is especially concerning for women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. To keep you and your young one healthy, it’s crucial to avoid eating hot dogs, deli meats, and luncheon meats until after your pregnancy. Also avoid soft cheeses, unless you double check the label to ensure that it’s made only from pasteurized milk. Cheeses such as feta or Brie are generally made from unpasteurized milk, so it’s critical to avoid those.
By avoiding refrigerated smoked seafood, unpasteurized products, and soft cheeses, you’ll greatly reduce the likelihood of listeriosis infection. Other at-risk populations include the elderly, those with diabetes, or individuals with HIV/AIDS.
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