Listeria affects approximately 1,600 people annually. Of these, around 260 die. This disease may sound incredibly scary, and rightfully so, but fortunately, there are several ways to detect and treat it in the early stages. However, what exactly is listeriosis? What are the symptoms of listeria? How long does listeria last? Is there an effective listeria treatment?

We provide information on detecting listeria in the early stages, what to expect, and how to get treated as quickly as possible. 

What is Listeria? 

This infection is a foodborne bacterial illness that can be very serious for pregnant women, elders over 65, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Listeria is most commonly caused by eating improperly processed meats and unpasteurized dairy products.

Although most healthy individuals rarely become ill from listeria, the disease can be fatal to those mentioned above. Listeria bacteria can also survive refrigeration and freezing. Therefore, people at higher risk of serious infections should avoid or limit eating the types of food most likely to carry this bacteria.

How to detect and treat Listeria

Causes

The causes of listeria vary, but bacteria are often found in water, soil, and animal feces. The most common ways to

 come into contact with this disease are the following:

  • Eating contaminated meat
  • Consuming processed foods, such as hot dogs, could have been contaminated after processing. 
  • Eating raw vegetables contaminated by soil or manure used as fertilizer.
  • Unpasteurized dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.
  • (Unborn babies can contract infections from the mother.)

Symptoms

pizza with bacteria

What are the symptoms of listeria? For the general population, listeria symptoms present themselves in various ways. They often begin a few days after ingesting the contaminated food but can take up to 30 days to present themselves fully. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Muscle Aches
  • Chills

However, signs and symptoms of listeria may change if the infection spreads to the nervous system:

listeria symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Stiff Neck
  • Convulsions
  • Confusion or lack of Alertness
  • Decreased sense of balance

During pregnancy, symptoms may only be mild for the mother but fatal for the unborn child. Babies may die in the womb or develop a life-threatening infection within a few days of being born. Signs and symptoms in newborns include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irritability
  • Little or no interest in feeding
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

Individuals with a high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, or sensitivity to light, need emergency care. These symptoms can indicate bacterial meningitis, a life-threatening complication of a listeria infection.

Risk Factors

As mentioned above, listeria poses health risks for everyone. However, pregnant women, individuals over 65, and weak immune systems are at the most significant risk.

  • Pregnant Women: Listeria infections may be mild for the mother, but they can cause severe complications with the baby. Complications include miscarriage, stillbirth, a potentially fatal infection after birth, or premature labor. 
  • Individuals with Weakened Immune Systems: People over the age of 65, who have diabetes, have AIDS, undergoing chemotherapy, or take medications to stop rejection of a transplanted organ fall under this category. 

Listeria Treatment

A blood test is the most common way of diagnosing listeria. A listeria treatment varies depending on the severity of the infection and symptoms. Individuals with mild symptoms often do not require treatment, while more severe infections are treated with antibiotics. How long does listeria last? Infections last from one to six weeks. 

Prevention

The best way to treat listeria is to prevent it in the first place. Following simple food safety guidelines helps deter unwanted bacteria in our food. 

  • Wash hands with warm soapy water before and after handling food. 
  • Use hot soapy water to wash utensils and cutting boards.
  •  Scrub raw vegetables clean.
  • Use a thermometer to make sure meat and poultry cook thoroughly. 
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