Listeria caused 1 miscarriage, 1 death, dozens hospitalized

At least 23 people have become ill with listeria, a bacterium that can cause serious illness and pregnancy loss, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The infection known as listeriosis usually affects people who have consumed contaminated food, but so far no specific food item has been linked to the outbreak, the agency said in a investigative report Thursday.

All but one of the infected people have been hospitalized and one person from Illinois has died from the disease. At the time, five of the infected people were pregnant and one of them had a miscarriage.

Pregnant people and newborn babies have a particularly high risk of becoming seriously ill if they are infected with listeria. Symptoms usually include fever, fatigue, and muscle aches; however, infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth.

People with compromised immune systems and adults over the age of 65 are also considered to be at high risk for serious listeria infection, according to the CDC.

Other symptoms of listeria infection include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions – suggesting that the infection has gone from the gut to the brain. Symptoms can appear more than two months after exposure to contaminated food or water.

“Part of the problem is that listeria has an incubation period of three to 70 days,” food safety attorney Bill Marler told Insider. “You should ask people what they’ve eaten in the last 60 days, so it can be hard to track down what it is unless they get sick quickly.”

Immunocompromised or pregnant people may show symptoms of listeria infection earlier than people with normal immune function, Marler said, so cases of a related outbreak could show up in a few months.

The cases were reported from 10 different states, but nearly all of the people who got sick live in or have recently traveled to Florida, the CDC reported. The meaning of the link to Florida is not yet known. In the meantime, the agency has recommended that people who have recently traveled there take extra care if they develop symptoms of listeriosis.

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