Listeriosis is a bacterial infection that can be potentially harmful to the foetus or newborn. Find out more and discover the precautions you can take to avoid it.
What is listeriosis?
Listeriosis is a bacterial infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes germ, which can be picked up through raw meat, seafood, unpasteurised milk and some unpasteurised cheeses.
In healthy people, the infection often goes unnoticed. Young children and people with a lowered immune system (the elderly, people with immune deficiency, pregnant women and newborns) are particularly at risk.
Symptoms of listeriosis are similar to those of a common cold with fever. Serious conditions such as meningitis or encephalitis can develop in vulnerable people. Diagnosis usually involves a blood or urine test. Antibiotics are given to pregnant women to try and prevent damage to the unborn baby.
Listeriosis in pregnant women
The infection may go unnoticed in pregnant women or it may cause a high temperature or flu-like symptoms. Although the consequences for the mother are mild, listeriosis can be potentially harmful to the fetus or newborn: it can cause severe blood poisoning (septicaemia) in the fetus, which can be fatal for the fetus; premature birth; or problems at birth such as breathing difficulties, eye infections, pneumonia and meningitis. This is why pregnant women with a fever of over 38°C should seek immediate medical advice. A blood or urine test will determine whether you have the infection and antibiotics will be given. If the infection is detected, treatment will continue right up until the end of the pregnancy.
Precautions to take
As a precautionary measure, mums-to-be should maintain high levels of hygiene and follow the usual recommendations, namely:
> Cut out unpasteurised milk and unpasteurised dairy products. For all other cheeses, you should remove the rind.
> Avoid cold cooked meat, undercooked meat, raw meat, taramasalata, pâté, smoked and raw seafood.
> Cook raw meat and fish thoroughly.
> Wash raw vegetables and aromatic plants thoroughly.
These are in addition to the usual rules of hygiene:
> Always reheat leftovers and chilled meals (germs are destroyed at 100° C).
> Wash your hands and clean cooking utensils after handling raw food.
> Clean your fridge twice a month and disinfect it with a bleach solution. Make sure the temperature is around 4°C. Place foods in separate containers/bags and allow the air to circulate easily.