Listeria is an infection caused by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes . This bacterial infection can cause mild symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhea, to severe symptoms, such as inflammation of the brain.

Listeria or listeriosis only causes mild symptoms in people with strong immune systems. Conversely, in people who have weak immune systems, suffer from certain diseases, or are over 65 years old, listeria can cause severe symptoms.

Listeria is also dangerous for pregnant women, because it can infect the fetus or newborn. In some cases, listeria can cause  miscarriage  or stillbirth .

Causes of Listeria

Listeria is caused by an infection with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes which lives in water, soil and animal waste. This bacterium can infect humans through food or drink, such as:

  • Raw vegetables that come from soil contaminated with bacteria
  • Contaminated packaged food products
  • Unpasteurized milk or its derivatives
  • Bacterial infected animal meat

It should be noted that Listeria bacteria can survive in the refrigerator or freezer . In other words, storing food in that place does not guarantee food is free from bacteria.

Listeria risk factors

Listeria can attack anyone, but this infection is more at risk for pregnant women and their fetuses, as well as people with the following conditions:

  • Age over 65 years
  • Suffer from certain diseases, such as AIDS , cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and liver disease
  • Suffering from alcohol addiction
  • Taking immune-lowering drugs, such as prednisone
  • Undergoing chemotherapy

Listeria symptoms

Listeria symptoms can appear days or months after the sufferer eats food contaminated with Listeria bacteria . Some of the symptoms that often appear are:

  • Nauseous
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle ache

Listeria bacteria can spread to the nervous system, especially in young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems. If this happens, the symptoms that appear can be:

  • Stiff neck
  • Headache
  • Lost balance
  • Bewildered
  • seizures

As previously explained, listeria infection can attack the fetus or newborn. In babies, symptoms of listeria infection can appear several days after the baby is born. These symptoms can include:

  • Rarely breastfeed
  • Fussy
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • It's hard to breathe

When to see a doctor

Check with your doctor  if you experience any of the above symptoms, especially if you are in a group of people at high risk of developing listeria. Examination needs to be done immediately if symptoms appear after consuming packaged food or milk and processed products.

You are also advised to seek medical help immediately if you experience complaints such as severe headaches, stiff neck, and confusion. These complaints can indicate serious complications due to listeria.

Diagnosis Listeria

To diagnose listeria, the doctor will conduct a question and answer about the symptoms experienced and what foods the patient consumed before symptoms appeared, followed by a physical examination.

In patients who are pregnant, the doctor will carry out further tests by taking blood, urine and amniotic fluid samples.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor can carry out supporting examinations in the form of:

  • Chest X-ray
  • MRI otak
  • Echocardiography
  • Lumbar puncture

Listeria Treatment

Treatment for listeria depends on the severity. Patients who experience mild symptoms generally do not require special treatment and can recover on their own.

In patients with severe symptoms, pregnant women, and newborns who are infected with listeria, treatment must be carried out in a hospital. The doctor will give an infusion of antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent complications.

Listeria complications

In some cases, listeria can cause serious complications, such as:

  • Premature birth
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Brain abscess
  • Infection in the inner lining of the heart ( endocarditis )
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Inflammation of the lining of the brain ( meningitis )
  • Sepsis

Listeria prevention

Listeria infection can be prevented by taking the following steps:

  • Wash hands with running water and soap both before and after preparing food.
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables with running water.
  • Clean cooking utensils with running water and soap before and after use.
  • Make sure the processed food is completely cooked.
  • Preheat the food you want to eat.
  • Clean the inside of the fridge periodically with warm water and soap to kill bacteria.
  • Do not consume unpasteurized milk and dairy products.
  • Be careful in consuming and storing meat, processed products, and packaged food.
  • Store leftovers properly in the refrigerator.
  • Store raw food and cooked food in separate containers.
  • Always reheat processed meat before consumption.

Especially for pregnant women and people with low immune systems, you should avoid consuming food or drinks, such as:

  • Salad
  • Sausage
  • Ham or other processed meat
  • Unpasteurized  milk  and its processed products, such as cheese
  • Smoked milkfish or other smoked seafood that has been stored in the refrigerator
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