The CDC estimates that one-third of all listeriosis cases occur in pregnant women. Although some have died as a result of severe infection, the mother may have no ill effects at all and not even realize she has been exposed. If symptoms do occur, they may be similar to a bad cold or flu and include chills, fever, muscle aches, diarrhea or upset stomach, headache and stiff neck. Confusion and loss of balance may also occur.
In most cases, the fetus is the one who suffers the most. The fetus exposed to listeria bacteria is at risk for miscarriage, low birth weight and preterm birth. Stillbirth and neonatal death are risks as well. Babies who survive such infection may go on to experience significant health problems, such as mental retardation, paralysis, seizures, blindness or problems with major organs. In the newborn, listeria may cause blood infection and meningitis.
How Can a Pregnant Woman Protect Herself From Listeriosis?
There's no routine screening test for this condition. If symptoms appear, the listeria bacterium can be detected by taking a culture of blood or cerebral spinal fluid. Prompt treatment with antibiotics may protect the fetus, but even with treatment, the fetus may be affected.
Because women may pass the infection to their babies without even knowing it, prevention is key. Do the following to minimize your risk:
-- Set your refrigerator to 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) or below, and set your freezer to 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C). Check temperatures periodically with a thermometer.