What you should know about Listeria

Published On: Jul 22 2014 12:53:22 PM EDT

With the fruit recall due to possible Listeria contamination, many people are wondering just what Listeria is and what it could do to you if ingested.

Listeria - or Listeria monocytogenes - is a food-borne illness that can be very serious for pregnant women and people with impaired immune systems, according to the Mayo Clinic. Listeria bacteria can be found in soil, water and animal feces. Humans typically are infected by consuming:

  • Raw vegetables that have been contaminated from the soil or from contaminated manure used as fertilizer
  • Infected animal meat
  • Unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk
  • Certain processed foods — such as soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli meats that have been contaminated after processing

The Mayo Clinic says healthy people rarely become ill from listeria infection, but the disease could be fatal to unborn babies and newborns. People who have weakened immune systems are also at a higher risk of life threatening complications.

Symptoms of Listeria are:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms can begin a few days after eating the contaminated food, but it could take as long as two months for the first signs of infection to begin.

If the listeria infection spreads to your nervous system, signs and symptoms could include:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion or changes in alertness
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions

As in adults, the signs and symptoms of a listeria infection in a newborn can be subtle, but may include:

  • Little interest in feeding
  • Irritability
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

If you've eaten a food that has been recalled because of a Listeria outbreak, pay close attention to any possible signs or symptoms of illness. If you experience any of the above listed side effects, you should contact your doctor immediately. The same goes for illness after eating a potentially contaminated product, such as foods made with unpasteurized milk or poorly heated hot dogs and deli meats.

If you experience the symptoms expected if the disease has spread to your nervous system, seek emergency care. These signs and symptoms may indicate bacterial meningitis, a life-threatening complication of a listeria infection. 


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