Complications and Prevention of Listeriosis

People who are immunocompromised have a higher risk of getting listeriosis and more severe complications.

Updated: February 2, 2018

Listeriosis is a bacterial infection most commonly caused by Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria primarily causes infections of the central nervous system such as meningitis, meningoencephalitis, brain abscess, cerebritis.

Complications of Listeriosis:

People who are immunocompromised have a higher risk of getting listeriosis and more severe complications.  These include pregnant females, newborns, the elderly, diabetics, cancer patients, AIDS patients, patients with kidney diseases, alcoholics, and those patients undergoing any immune-suppression therapy. Individuals who have one or more of these medical problems could get severe infections and die from listeriosis. In most of the cases the bacteria are not contagious from person to person except incase of a pregnant woman who can transfer the bacteria to the fetus or the newborn. In pregnant women, the infection can result in miscarriage, premature delivery, serious infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.
The major complications of listeriosis include:

  • blood infection (septicemia/bacteremia),
  • meningitis and/or encephalitis which is  infections of the central nervous system
  • brain abscesses,
  • seizures,
  • miscarriage,
  • premature birth,
  • neonatal sepsis (potentially fatal),
  • stillbirth, and
  • death
  • localized skin infections may occur in very rare cases especially in people who handle animals that are infected with Listeria. These skin infections rarely lead to further complications such as brain infection.

Prevention of Listeriosis:

By practicing safe food handling you can prevent Listeriosis. Some general recommendations are listed below:

  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating. You can scrub with a clean produce brush in uncontaminated running water.
  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods. . If possible, use two cutting boards-one for fresh vegitable and fruits and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. You can also wash your knives and cutting boards in the dishwasher to disinfect them.
  • Carefully read and follow labels on food packaging. Food packaging labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it. Reading food labels and following safety instructions will reduce your chance of becoming ill with food poisoning.
  • Do not eat the food if you are not sure whether it is safe. Reheating food that is contaminated will not remove the bacteria and make it safe. Do not taste suspicious food. It may smell and look fine but still may not be safe to eat.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
  • Prepare foods safely. Wash your hands before and after handling food. Also wash your hand after using the bathroom or changing diapers.

In addition to the recommendations listed above, there are some food safety recommendations for people at high risk, such as pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. These include:

  • Hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats should be reheated until steaming hot before consuming.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot-dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Avoid eating refrigerated pates or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is most often labeled as nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked, or jerky. The fish is found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.
  • Avoid cross-contaminating other foods, utensils, and food-preparation surfaces with fluid from hot-dog packages, and wash hands after handling hot dogs.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless the labels that they have clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk. Cheeses that may be eaten include hard cheeses, semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella, pasteurized processed cheeses such as slices and spreads, cream cheese, and cottage cheese.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
  • Avoid eating salads made in a store, such as ham, chicken, egg, tuna, or seafood salads.


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