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Listeriosis


Overview :

Listeriosis is caused by an infection with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. This bacteria can be carried by many animals and birds, and it has been found in soil, water, sewage, and animal feed. Five out of every 100 people carry Listeria monocytogenes in their intestines. Listeriosis is considered a food-borne illness because most people are probably infected after eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. However, a woman can pass the bacteria to her baby during pregnancy. In addition, there have been a few cases where workers have developed Listeria skin infections by touching infected calves or poultry.

In the 1980s, the United States government began taking measures to decrease the occurrence of listeriosis. Processed meats and dairy products are now tested for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) can legally prevent food from being shipped, or order food recalls, if they detect any Listeria bacteria. These inspections, in combination with the public education regarding the proper handling of uncooked foods, appear to be working. In 1989, there were 1,965 cases of listeriosis with 481 deaths. In 1993, the numbers fell to 1,092 cases with 248 deaths.

In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began a nationwide food-borne disease surveillance program called FoodNet, in which seven states were participating by January 1997. Results from the program indicated that, in 1996, one person out of every 200,000 people got listeriosis. FoodNet also revealed that the hospitalization rate was higher for listeriosis (94%) than for any other food-borne illness. In addition, FoodNet found that the Listeria bacteria reached the blood and cerebrospinal fluid in 89% of cases, a higher percentage than in any other food-borne illness.

Persons at particular risk for listeriosis include the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, and those with a weakened immune system (called immunocompromised ). Risk is increased when a person suffers from diseases such as AIDS, cancer, kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, or by the use of certain medications. Infection is most common in babies younger than one month old and adults over 60 years of age. Pregnant women account for 27% of the cases and immunocompromised persons account for almost 70%. Persons with AIDS are 280 times more likely to get listeriosis than others.




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