Can Food Poisoning Cause a Miscarriage or Stillbirth?

The Risks Associated with Food Poisoning and Pregnancy

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One of the greatest food-related risks pregnant women are warned against is food-related illness, or food poisoning. While it is the goal of any pregnant woman to remain as healthy as possible during her pregnancy, the risks associated with food poisoning when you're pregnant aren't limited to the risk of not feeling well for a day or two. 

Can Food Poisoning Cause a Miscarriage?

The short answer is yes.

Certain bacterial infections are well established as possible miscarriage causes. Specific food-borne illnesses (a.k.a. food poisoning) that are linked to miscarriage include:

  • Listeriosis
  • Salmonella enterocolitis (also known as Salmonellosis)
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • E. coli enteritis

The best way to protect yourself from these food-borne infections, thus reducing risk of miscarriage and pregnancy loss, is to avoid foods at risk of contamination during pregnancy, be careful about eating in restaurants, and be vigilant when preparing food at home (cook all meats thoroughly and carefully wash all produce). At the same time, however, don't be afraid to eat everything -- remember that most disease-causing bacteria are killed by high heat, so in most cases pasteurized dairy products and meats cooked "well done" should be safe.

What Is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a severe illness caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.

In addition to affecting pregnant women, this illness typically also infects older adults with weakened immune systems and newborns. Adults who aren't pregnant and have intact immune systems are at less risk of catching this illness.

Symptoms and repercussions of listeriosis in pregnant women include the following:

  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Fatigue
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Premature delivery
  • Life-threatening infection affecting the newborn

Listeriosis outbreaks most frequently occur in the summer. Sources of listeria infection include meats and seafood as well as unpasteurized milk. Listeriosis is treated using antibiotics. The most common antibiotics used to treat listeriosis are penicillin, ampicillin, and amoxicillin. People who are allergic to penicillin can take Bactrim (TMP/SMX) instead.

What Is Salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is a foodborne illness caused by the bacteria Salmonella. Symptoms of Salmonella include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps. vomiting, nausea, muscle pain and chills. Salmonellosis can cause blood and pus to appear in the stool. Undercooked poultry products, such as chicken or turkey, are common sources of contamination with Salmonella. Salmonellosis can be treated in the following ways:

  • drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water or other clear fluids a day
  • consuming some salty foods or drinks rich in electrolytes like Gatorade
  • eating high-potassium foods like bananas
  • eating several small meals while ill instead of 3 large meals
  • antibiotics

Typically, a physician will prescribe antibiotics when the diarrhea secondary to salmonellosis is excessive (think 9 or 10 times a day) or a person has a high fever.

What Is E. Coli Enteritis?

E. coli enteritis is the most common cause of travelers' diarrhea. E. coli enteritis involves swelling of the small intestine caused by infection with E. coli bacteria. Although E. coli is naturally found in our intestines, pathogenic strains of E. coli present in certain contaminated foods, like undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables and so forth, can cause E. coli enteritis.  Typical symptoms of E. coli enteritis include bloody diarrhea, fever, stomach cramping and loss of appetite. Treatment for E. coli enteritis entails hydration and possible use of antibiotics, such as doxycycline, Bactrim (TMP/SMZ), fluoroquinolones, and rifaximin.

Sources:

American Pregnancy Association, "Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy." Nov 2007. Accessed 9 Jan 2008. 

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