Listeriosis and Pregnancy

What You Need to Know About the Risks of Listeria Infection During Pregnancy

Soft, unpasteurized dairy products can pose a risk of listeria infection during pregnancy. Photo courtesy of Image*After

Listeria infection, or listeriosis, is a foodborne infection caused by a bacteria species called Listeria monocytogenes. Outbreaks of listeriosis are frequently reported in the media and can be a cause for food recalls due to the potential seriousness of infection. The CDC reports that 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis and 500 people each year die from Listeria infection each year.

Exposure to Listeria is not usually life threatening for children and adults with normally functioning immune systems. The highest risk is for people who are immune compromised, such as individuals who take immune suppressing drugs. These individuals face a greater risk of developing a significant infection after exposure to the bacteria.

Pregnant women also face increased risk of Listeria infection. Healthy, non-pregnant adults can often eat food contaminated with Listeria without even getting sick, but pregnant women are 20 times more likely to contract listeriosis than are healthy, non-pregnant women.

Listeria infection in pregnant women most often occurs in the third trimester. Pregnant women with Listeria infection have an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or preterm delivery; babies can also be born with a serious infection when the mother is exposed.

As such, it is important to take whatever precautions you can during pregnancy -- such as avoiding uncooked meats and unpasteurized dairy products -- even if you eat these foods without problems when you are not pregnant.

During pregnancy, symptoms of listeriosis would be similar to those of a mild flu-like illness. In addition, listeriosis should be considered in any case of a pregnant woman having a fever of unknown cause. You should talk to your doctor if you have any concern that you might have been exposed to Listeria.


Centers for Disease Control, "Listeriosis." Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases (DFBMD). 27 Mar 2008. Accessed 27 Aug 2008.

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