Listeriosis: The Hidden Danger in Pregnancy

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Harvard Medical School

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Listeriosis: The Hidden Danger in Pregnancy

Pregnancy Guide
25370
Eating Right
Listeriosis: The Hidden Danger in Pregnancy
Listeriosis: The Hidden Danger in Pregnancy
htmListeriosis
Some foods contain bacteria that may cause a miscarriage or illnesses in newborns.
152288
InteliHealth
2009-07-01
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InteliHealth Medical Content
2011-08-14

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Listeriosis: The Hidden Danger in Pregnancy

Some foods consumed during pregnancy can contain a dangerous bacterium that may cause a miscarriage, stillbirth or serious illnesses in newborns. What makes this bug different is that unlike most bacterial invaders that can attack your unborn baby only if the protective amniotic membrane has been ruptured, listeriosis travels in your bloodstream — and can easily infect the fetus.

Listeriosis is hard to detect, because it usually produces only flulike symptoms, such as headache, fever, chills, fatigue, nausea and upset stomach — ailments that may be mistaken as side effects of pregnancy. While listeria rarely complicates pregnancy, it is responsible for 100 stillbirths per year in the United States. Here's how to avoid this bacteria:

Watch Those Cheeses

Cheese, particularly unpasteurized soft cheese, provides an ideal home for listeriosis. So avoid feta, Brie, Camembert, blue and Mexican cheeses during pregnancy, especially if the cheeses are unpasteurized or uncooked. Hard cheeses (such as cheddar), semi-soft cheeses (such as mozzarella), processed cheese slices, cottage cheese and cheese spreads can be safely eaten during pregnancy, as long as they are pasteurized.

Cook Everything

Listeriosis lurks in soil (as well as in sewage and among wild animals). Produce that's been fertilized in manure can be especially vulnerable. Meat, fish and even eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the bacteria, whereas raw poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Even leftovers and ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs should be reheated or microwaved until they're steaming. And because well water can harbor the listeriosis bacteria, boil well water before drinking it. Newborns are also vulnerable to the bacteria, so also boil water you plan to use in formulas.

Store Foods Quickly

The bacteria thrive at room temperature, so leaving foods out for two hours or more raises your risk. Placing leftovers in shallow, small covered containers helps them chill rapidly and evenly, giving the bacteria less chance to gain a foothold. Your refrigerator should be set between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, wash your hands before handling foods and reduce your risk of contamination by using one cutting board for raw meat, fowl and fish and another for cheese.

 

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Last updated May 20, 2013


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