Listeria – Listing Out the Facts

Written by Dr. Veena Madhankumar and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team

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Need a reason not to throw a party? For the introvert in you, we have the best excuse. All you have to do is tell people you cannot, in all good conscience, set out the charcuterie board. Those Listeria outbreaks got too serious too soon. So cold-cut deli meats and cheeses are a bad idea, and you can refuse to host a party without a charcuterie board. Even if they roll their eyes at your snobbery, no one can fault your anti-infection mentality (you win points for caring). And the best part – No social interaction that you do not explicitly ask for. You are welcome. And now, if you want to get to know your inadvertent savior better, stick with us.

1. Who the Man?

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Listeria, obviously. But we understand we need to spill all the tea, so on to the facts. Listeria monocytogenes is the name. Food contamination is the game. If you have a fondness for cold cuts and cheeses, now is the time to avoid them like the plague (or say hello to a plague-y Listeria outbreak, no pressure). Also, enoki mushrooms are a recent addition to this list, so if you have a fondness for them, take note. The infection caused by this organism is actually called listeriosis and can affect the sufferer quite severely.

2. Line of Fire

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The victims directly in the line of fire belong to the same groups that usually fall prey to infections. That would be the older age groups, those with low immunity, and pregnant ladies (and their babies). Pregnant women may not display much more than a mild reaction, but there have been reports of miscarriages, so keep away for the sake of your baby.

3. The Symptom Lineup

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If you are looking to self-diagnose, we have tips. The key one being “go see your doctor, please,” but here are a few symptoms you can watch out for anyway – fever, headache, muscle aches, disorientation, stiff neck, imbalance issues, and fits or convulsions. These apply to non-pregnant individuals. Pregnant ladies experience fewer side effects (fever, muscle aches, and tiredness). With notable additions like miscarriages, premature deliveries, stillbirths, and severe infections in newborn babies. So not a party by any stretch of the imagination.

4. The Story So Far

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For the current Listeria outbreak in the United States, there is not much difference from the expected trends for listeriosis. The affected age groups are older, and pregnant women have had some serious scares. There appears to be a slight male predilection, but not enough to blame these bacteria for gender bias. It did, however, fall short on the ancestral score because most of those affected have been of Russian and Eastern European descent. Also, the numbers affected may have exceeded the reported amounts, mostly because some cases may recover without medical attention.

5. Troubleshooting

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So what now? Give up on deli meats and cheeses entirely? Well, not exactly. If you can heat these foods to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, you should be good to go. If you do not prefer reheating, then yes, your only other option is to give them up. Especially if you fall under the vulnerable categories. Or you could live dangerously. Your choice.

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The good news is the outbreaks can be stopped with thorough deep cleaning and environmental testing. Also, most people are not severely affected. The bad news is there are outliers (exceptions to the rule, if you like). But keep the faith (in delis), and keep your fingers crossed that you will soon have your meats and eat them too. Bon appétit!


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Q: What are the possibilities of Listeria monocytogenes to colonise and proliferate in a dry plate?
I understand your concern. I suggest that you get a culture for listeria from the cloth which was used. If the cloth was dry, then the chance of the listeria to survive is less. It is difficult to predict if the water wa... Read more »
Q: How do I know if I have listeria or toxoplasmosis?
If there is an active infection, then you can transmit the infection to the baby. Please note if you get any fever or flu like symptoms, then you need to investigate and treat. It is a very less likely possibility of the... Read more »
Q: How would I know if I have listeria?
Pregnant women typically experience fever and other non-specific symptoms of listeria such as fatigue and aches.Besides symptoms, a blood culture is the most ideal way of diagnosis of listeria.However, infections during ... Read more »
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