How Do You Diagnose Listeria?

May 7th 2016

A listeria infection can be fatal, even with prompt treatment. Those who are at greatest risk should avoid hot dogs, soft and Mexican-style cheeses, meat spreads, and refrigerated smoked seafood such as lox. In addition, it's important to pay attention to news announcements of listeria outbreaks; if you experience possible listeriosis symptoms while an outbreak is ongoing, get tested as soon as possible.

Catching Listeriosis

The primary way to contract listeriosis is to eat food or drink water contaminated with the listeria bacteria. Typically this involves eating vegetables grown in contaminated soil, meat from animals that have been infected or unpasteurized dairy products that have become infected with the bacteria. While both cooking and pasteurization kill the bacteria, deli meats, hot dogs and cheeses are prone to contamination after they've been prepared. In addition, unborn babies can catch listeriosis from an infected mother, and newborns can get it through breast milk.

Diagnosing Listeriosis

Doctors typically diagnose listeriosis by means of a blood, urine or spinal fluid test, with blood tests being the most common. However, physicians often fail to diagnose listeriosis because they don't pinpoint the symptoms until the disease is far advanced. They often ascribe the symptoms to some other sort of digestive upset, such as stomach flu or another form of food poisoning, and fail to prescribe the critical blood tests.

Once listeriosis progresses to a serious stage, it often moves beyond the initial flu-like or digestive symptoms to serious symptoms that may include mental confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. At this point, doctors usually hospitalize patients, and the percentage of cases properly diagnosed is fairly high.

Because of the special danger of listeriosis to pregnant woman, who can suffer miscarriage or stillbirth as a result of the infection, any pregnant woman who shows possible symptoms of listeriosis should see a doctor for testing right away.

Treating Listeriosis

Once a doctor diagnoses a listeria infection, he can treat it with antibiotics. Because the bacteria can live for a long time before symptoms occur, pregnant women, the elderly and the immunocompromised should request listeria testing if they experience symptoms within two months of eating potentially contaminated food. Antibiotic treatment during pregnancy can be life-saving for the unborn child. People who have listeriosis but experience mild symptoms may not need any treatment whatsoever.

Conclusion

Listeria, commonly known as listeriosis, is a foodborne illness caused by listeria bacteria, and can be especially dangerous for pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems. Often, news of a listeria contamination is broadcast far and wide to help people understand the potential severity of their gastrointestinal distress. However, many cases of listeriosis are never properly diagnosed.

Sources

CDC.gov "Listeria (listeriosis) diagnosis" http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/diagnosis.html
MayoClinic.org "Listeria infection: Tests and diagnosis" http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/listeria-infection/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20031039
FoodSafetyNews.com "How often does listeria get properly diagnosed?" http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/09/how-often-does-listeria-get-properly-diagnosed/#.VVu2UGbY1hA

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