Pregnant Women and Listeria: Everything You Need to Know

Jun 04, 2024

Urgent Care

Pregnant Women and Listeria: Everything You Need to Know

Bringing a new life into the world is undoubtedly one of the most magical experiences a woman can go through. However, amidst the excitement and anticipation, there are essential considerations to ensure the safety and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. One such concern often takes center stage is the risk of Listeria infection during pregnancy. While the thought of potential hazards can be unsettling, understanding the precautions and guidelines can empower expecting mothers to navigate this period with confidence and reassurance. 

This blog will explore Listeria, how it can affect pregnant women, and simple yet effective precautions you can take throughout pregnancy. 

What Is Listeria?

Listeria, a type of bacteria found in water, soil, and certain animals such as cattle and poultry, can cause listeriosis, a foodborne illness. This illness is considered one of the most severe forms of food poisoning and is typically contracted by eating undercooked deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products.

While healthy individuals are less likely to fall ill from listeria, the infection can be fatal for unborn babies, infants, and those with compromised immune systems. Timely administration of antibiotics can alleviate the impact of listeria infection.

What Are the Symptoms of Listeria?

You may not feel well or experience symptoms after eating contaminated food for a few days, but the infection symptoms can take a month or more to appear.

Common symptoms of listeria include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills

If the infection progresses to your nervous system, you may experience:

  • Convulsions
  • Imbalance
  • Stiff neck
  • Headache
  • Confusion 

Symptoms of listeria while pregnant are often mild and may go unnoticeable. Even if the pregnant woman is asymptomatic, they can pass the infection to the unborn, and its consequences can be life-threatening, including:

  • The baby can die in the womb (or)
  • They develop a deadly infection after a few days of birth

Symptoms of listeria in a newborn include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Little interest in feeding
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability

How Can Listeria Affect Pregnant Women?

Listeria is especially concerning for pregnant women because it can easily pass through the placenta and infect the developing baby. This can lead to severe complications, including:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Premature birth
  • Serious illness in newborns (meningitis, sepsis)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are about 10 times more likely to contract listeriosis than the general population. Listeriosis is also a leading cause of foodborne illness deaths in the United States, with pregnant women and newborns accounting for a disproportionate number of fatalities.

How Is Listeria Treated?

Listeria treatment varies depending on the seriousness of your symptoms. While no medical intervention is required for individuals with mild symptoms, antibiotics will be used to treat severe infections.

Pregnant women need immediate antibiotic treatment to prevent the infection from impacting the baby.

How to Prevent Listeria in Pregnancy?

Pregnant women need to be cautious about their food choices to prevent contracting Listeria. To reduce the risk of Listeria infection during pregnancy, you must avoid eating:

  • Unpasteurized foods made of unpasteurized milk, including soft cheeses.
  • Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads.
  • Hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they are steaming hot before eating.
  • Unwashed raw items such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood.

Also, avoid consuming undercooked or raw eggs, poultry, meat, seafood, and sushi containing raw fish. Cooking and pasteurization are the ways to prevent contracting listeria infection.

Other Food Safety Guidelines to Follow

Cleaning and safe handling of foods are also important to avoid listeria infection, equivalent to cooking and pasteurization.

Here is what you must do:


  • Wash your hands before and after touching raw food.
  • Thoroughly rinse raw vegetables and fruits before peeling, cutting, eating, or cooking.
  • Avoid rinsing raw meat or poultry before cooking, as it can spread bacteria to other kitchen surfaces.
  • Ensure your kitchen, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops are clean.


  • Store poultry, raw meat, seafood, eggs, and juices separately.
  • Do not marinate cooked food in the same sauce used for raw food unless the sauce is boiled first.
  • Have a separate cutting board for poultry, raw meat, and seafood.
  • Do not serve cooked food on a plate where raw food was served before unless the plate is washed.


  • Check whether seafood, poultry, meat, and eggs are at a safe temperature.
  • Cover, stir, and rotate food in a microwave to cook the food evenly.


  • Your refrigerator should be at 40°F or below and freezer at 0°F or below.
  • Defrost food in a microwave, refrigerator, or cold water, and cook it immediately.
  • Buy refrigerated eggs, store them in the refrigerator in their original carton, and use them within 3–5 weeks.
  • Avoid keeping perishable food at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Refreeze the meat and poultry and defrost them in the refrigerator before or after cooking.
  • However, cook them before refreezing if they are thawed in a microwave or cold water.
  • Buy refrigerated pre-cut produce and refrigerate it at home, too.

When to See a Doctor?

Visit your urgent care provider if:

  • You develop listeria symptoms after eating contaminated food like unpasteurized milk, poorly heated hot dogs, or deli meats.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration has recalled a drink or food that you recently consumed due to a listeriosis outbreak.
  • Your symptoms persist even after some days of starting antibiotics.

Go to the ER if you have confusion, severe headache, stiff neck, and sensitivity to light, as these signal bacterial meningitis, a fatal complication of listeria infection.

Get Swift Medical Attention for Listeria When Pregnant at MI Express Urgent Care

If you are showing listeria symptoms during pregnancy, visit MI Express Urgent Care to get immediate medical attention to protect you and your baby. With our experienced medical professionals and state-of-the-art facilities, we are equipped to provide top-notch care for individuals suffering from listeria infections. Contact us today to get back in good health soon.

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