There are a number of infections that you should watch out for during pregnancy, because they can do serious harm to the baby growing inside of you. One of the types of mono, caused by a virus called CMV is one of these infections. However a lesser known infection which is also problematic for pregnant women is caused by a bacteria called Listeria. Here’s what you should know, and what to look out for.
What are the signs of an infection from Listeria?
Listeria infections can grossly be divided into 2 in order to understand a little more about how the infection works. There is an invasive form of the disease, and a non-invasive form. The non-invasive form is usually stomach-flu like symptoms, including diarrhea, low fever perhaps, chills, and general malaise. The invasive form however can manifest itself in a number of ways, including contamination of the central nervous system, or blood stream. In pregnant women the invasive disease usually presents with muscle and joint pain, back pain, headaches and they might have a fever. Although these are rather unspecific symptoms, if there is reason to fear this infection it should be checked out with blood cultures, meaning taking a sample of your blood and trying to grow the bacteria in the lab.
How do you get infected?
Listeria infection is a food based bacteria, which is able to live at low temperatures. It likes to cling on to processed food and can be found in a number of pates, pre-prepared salads, unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses, meats as well. Many times the bacteria is born and multiplies on the supply chain, so if there is an outbreak the only way to contain it is by treating it from the core. There is no evidence however that the bacteria is passed on from person to person contact, so if you are around someone else who has flu-like symptoms, and they pass those symptoms on to you the chances of you having Listeria are much lower. However if you both ate at a certain restaurant for example, and others from the same place complain of similar symptoms there should be higher level of suspicion. As previously mentioned, Listeria can live and multiply in lower temperatures, specifically around 4 degrees Celcius. If you are pregnant, or living with a pregnant woman check your fridge to make sure that it is at around 2 degrees, in order to keep a safety measure from this infection.
How dangerous is Listeria for a fetus?
If a woman is infected with Listeria in her bloodstream, there is a 70-90% chance than she will pass that infection on to a fetus. In infected foetuses mortality rates are around 50%. Before you start getting too worried however, there are a few things that need to be considered. First of all, this is for untreated mothers. If the mother is treated with antibiotics the mortality rate drops to below 20%, which is still very high. However out of all the pregnant women that are exposed to Listeria, only 1 in 10,000 will be infected. That being said, a large number of women are exposed to Listeria, so the infection is not that rare. In Israel for example, almost 100% of pregnant women are exposed to Listeria, and statistically speaking 1 in 10,000 will be infected.
How is Listeria infection treated?
Because of the fact that Listeria is a bacteria, it is treated with antibiotics. The usual treatment is IV Ampicillin at a high dose. Some choose to treat in combination with gentamicin, though evidence is not conclusive that this helps too much. If there is an allergy to penecillin, than TMP-SMX is preferred. This treatment is usually for 2 weeks, unless there is an invasion into the central nervous system, in which prolonged treatment is recommended.
There are a certain amount of preventative measure that we should all take, but especially should be payed attention to if there is a pregnant woman in the vicinity. This includes fully cooking meat, paying attention to expiry dates, washing fresh vegetables thoroughly, cleaning our utensils, and avoiding unpasteurised dairy products. Pregnant women should avoid soft cheese (hard cheese and yogurt are okay), and should avoid or thoroughly reheat ready-to-eat and delicatessen foods.
There you have it, stay healthy, and prevent infections before they start (especially in pregnant women)!