Listeria infection is a foodborne bacterial illness that can be very serious for pregnant women and people with impaired immune systems. Listeria infection is most commonly contracted by eating improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products.
Healthy people rarely become ill from listeria infection, but the disease can be fatal to unborn babies and newborns. People who have weakened immune systems also are at higher risk of life-threatening complications. Prompt antibiotic treatment can help curb the effects of listeria infection.
Listeria bacteria can survive refrigeration and even freezing. That’s why people who are at higher risk of serious infections should avoid eating the types of food most likely to contain listeria bacteria.
If you develop a listeria infection, you may experience:
- Muscle aches
Symptoms may begin a few days after you’ve eaten contaminated food, but it may take as long as 30 days or more before the first signs and symptoms of infection begin.
If the listeria infection spreads to your nervous system, signs and symptoms may include:
- Stiff neck
- Confusion or changes in alertness
- Loss of balance
A blood test is often the most effective way to determine whether you have a listeria infection. In some cases, samples of urine or spinal fluid may be tested as well.
Treatment of listeria infection varies, depending on the severity of the signs and symptoms. Most people with mild symptoms require no treatment. More-serious infections can be treated with antibiotics.
During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby. Newborns who have a listeria infection may receive a combination of antibiotics.