By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Diane Miller
Protecting yourself and your unborn child from listeriosis
Placeholder Image
    During pregnancy there are many things an expectant mother can do to ensure the best possible health for herself and her unborn child. Some of the more obvious things include getting plenty of fluids, taking prenatal vitamins and consuming healthful foods. When concentrating on selecting a healthy diet for herself and her baby, a pregnant woman should also concern herself with food safety. Food borne illness, an infection or intoxication caused by consumption of contaminated foods, is of particular concern to pregnant women. Specifically, a food borne illness called listeriosis, caused by the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes.
    Pregnant women and their unborn children are among a population of individuals who are considered to be “at risk” for contracting listeriosis. The reason for increased susceptibility to listeriosis in women who are pregnant is that during pregnancy hormonal changes take place that cause the immune system to be less resistant. The CDC estimates that a pregnant woman’s likelihood of contracting listeriosis is 20 times greater than that of other healthy adults. In addition, it has been stated that about one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy. The danger to the unborn baby is present because listeriosis can cross the placental membrane to infect the fetus, even if the mother has no symptoms of illness. Fetal infection with Listeria can cause complications such as prematurity, miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious health problems for the newborn. Though it has not been proven, there is a theoretical possibility that Listeria monocytogenes can be transmitted through nursing.
    Knowing if you have contracted listeriosis can be a bit tricky. Symptoms may not appear until days or weeks after eating the contaminated food, and when they do appear they might be so mild that the infection goes unnoticed. The fact that a Listeria monocytogenes infection could go unnoticed and therefore go untreated makes it very important to take preventative precautions during pregnancy. Flu-like symptoms with the sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle aches and at times diarrhea or upset stomach are all symptoms that may indicate listeriosis in a pregnant woman. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms may also include stiff neck, headache, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. If any of these symptoms appear consult your doctor or health care provider. A blood test is available that can isolate Listeria monocytogenes as the cause of symptoms.
    In the case of listeriosis in a pregnant woman, the standard course of treatment is a round of antibiotics which treats the mother and most times prevents infection of the baby. If the infant becomes infected, antibiotics can be given to treat the newborn as well.
    Taking preventative steps to avoid listeriosis infection is altogether the best bet for high risk individuals, including pregnant women and their babies. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have outlined the following guidelines for pregnant women and other high risk members of the population:
    - Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna or other deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
    - Do not eat soft cheese such as Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses and Panela unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, “MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK”. Other types of cheeses, including cream cheese and cottage cheese, can be safely consumed.
    0 Do not eat refrigerated paté, meat spreads from a meat counter or smoked seafood found in the refrigerated section of the store. (Refrigerated smoked seafood should not be eaten unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish.) Examples of refrigerated smoked seafood include salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna and mackerel, all of which are often labeled as “novastyle,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked” or “jerky.” Foods that do not need refrigeration and are shelf stable, such as canned tuna and canned salmon, are safe to eat. Refrigerate after opening.
    - Avoid raw, unpasteurized milk or foods that contain unpasteurized milk.
    - Do not eat salads made in the store such as ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad or seafood salad.
    Because Listeria can grow at refrigerated temperatures of 40 degrees F or below, FSIS and FDA also advise:
    - Use all perishable foods that are precooked or ready-to-eat as soon as possible.
    - Keep the inside of your refrigerator clean at all times.
    - Use a refrigerator thermometer in the warmest part of the refrigerator which is on the top shelf, toward the door, to ensure it always stays at 40 degrees F or below. (This will keep the growth slowed down even if it does not stop it.)
    If you discover that you have consumed a food that has been recalled due to Listeria contamination, but do not have any symptoms, most experts agree that there is no need for tests or treatment, even if you are pregnant. Although, if you are pregnant, have eaten a contaminated food and experience flu-like symptoms within two months of eating the contaminated food, you should notify your health care provider.
    Protecting yourself and your baby from food borne illness is just another of the important precautions that need be taken to ensure the health and well being of you and your baby. For more information on food safety, contact Diane at (912) 871-0504, or
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter