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In this lesson, you will learn about Listeria Monocytogenes and the illness that they cause. We will look at the symptoms and treatments. There is a short quiz at the end to check your knowledge.

Listeria Monocytogenes Defined

Listeria monocytogenes, abbreviated as L. monocytogenes is a bacteria that can cause listeriosis, also called Listeria. Listeriosis is an illness that is passed through consuming foods that contain the Listeria bacteria. These bacteria are able to grow with or without oxygen, which makes them unique compared to other bacteria. They are also able to grow in high temperatures and in low temperatures.

This means they can grow both in the body and the refrigerator, which helps them spread through food.

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Listeria bacteria magnified
Micrograph of

Listeria Facts

Foods that are commonly associated with listeriosis are hot dogs, deli meats, soft cheeses, seafood, dairy products, and prepared meat products.

Listeria is not normally associated with vegetables unless the vegetables were contaminated with waste products from an animal source. Listeriosis doesn’t normally cause symptoms in healthy adults with an intact immune system. It does tend to be seen more so in newborns, pregnant women, elderly adults, and adults with a compromised immune system. This is one of the reasons why deli meats, seafood, and other prepared meat products are not recommended for pregnant women.

Deli meats and cheese are associated with listeria infections.

Picture of deli meats and cheese

Symptoms of Listeriosis

Like most foodborne illnesses, the symptoms start off affecting the digestive system. Diarrhea and stomachaches are some of the first symptoms that may appear. During the early stages of infection, a person may also notice that they have a fever that is accompanied with muscle pain. People that have listeriosis also complain about headaches and confusion.

Neck stiffness, convulsions, and loss of balance are other symptoms that can occur when a person has Listeria.Pregnant women may experience different symptoms from other people affected with listeriosis. These symptoms can include fatigue, aches, and fever. When this occurs due to listeriosis, there is an increased risk of the baby being born with an infection. Occurrences of stillbirths, miscarriages, and premature births are also associated with listeriosis in pregnant women.

Treatment for Listeriosis

There are instances when a person may not need to be treated for listeriosis at all. This is usually the case when an otherwise healthy adult is exposed to Listeria and has no or only a few mild symptoms. When treatment is required, antibiotics are given that are able to clear the Listeria infection. The antibiotic mostly prescribed for listeriosis is ampicilin. The antibiotics are not normally prescribed at the beginning of diagnosis in a person with an intact immune system. It may be up to two months later before antibiotics are prescribed, in order to give time for the body to fight it off on its own.

In the case of pregnant women, the antibiotics are prescribed immediately in order to decrease the likelihood of infection in the developing fetus or newborn. The treatment for babies is the same, with the exception that multiple antibiotics are used at the same time until the exact bacteria causing the infection is identified. This is done because babies are more susceptible to death from the infection. Death is not very common with Listeria infections, but it can and does occur.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, we defined Listeria monocytogenes as a bacteria that is able to grow in warm as well as cold temperatures and causes an infection known as listeriosis. Listeriosis is the foodborne disease that causes a person to have diarrhea, fever, fatigue, and muscle aches.

The other symptoms are neck stiffness, headaches, confusion, and loss of balance. Additional symptoms or complications that can occur during pregnancy are miscarriage, stillbirths, or premature births. The groups of people that are most likely to get listeriosis are newborns, pregnant women, and people with a compromised immune system.

Listeria infections are usually only seen in animal products, such as dairy products, deli meats, soft cheeses, hot dogs, seafood, and other prepared meat products. Most people with a functioning immune system don’t need treatment. Pregnant women and babies receive the antibiotic ampicillin immediately.

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