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Is listeria deadly? What are its symptoms and how is it transmitted?

A listeria outbreak in Florida has people worried as 22 people have been hospitalised and one dead. What are the risks of the disease?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating two separate Listeria outbreaks linked to packaged salads that have resulted in fatalities.

An outbreak of the listeria infection is spreading from Florida. Cases have been linked to the sunshine state from as far away as Colorado as holiday makers seeking some early summer sun have picked up the disease.

It’s a big worry; 22 people have needed hospital treatment. One person has died and a pregnant woman also lost her child due to the illness, a particular worry as pregnant women are in the group that would be considered to be most at risk from serious consequences. The CDC has announced that it is aware of the outbreak and monitoring it.

Unlike covid-19, listeria is not transfered in the air or by proximity to infected humans. It is caught by eating food which is infected with the listeria bacteria. Chilled foods are the main danger.

  • cooked sliced meats and cured meats
  • smoked fish and cooked shellfish
  • blue veined and mould-ripened soft cheeses, like camembert and brie
  • pâté
  • pre-prepared sandwiches and salads
  • some pre-prepared fruit, including melon slices
  • unpasteurised milk
  • dairy products made from unpasteurised milk

What are the symptoms?

Basic symptoms are similar to what can be experienced with usual infetions from food.

  • a high temperature of 38C or above
  • aches and pains
  • chills
  • feeling or being sick
  • diarrhoea

The serious symptoms for listeria are if the bacteria infects beyond your gut. If it reaches the bloodstream, the bactera can damage your central nervous system. This can result in symptoms such as confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. Clearly these are serious symptoms and medical assistance is necessary. At this stage of the illness, there is a 20-30 percent chance of death.

If you have been to Florida recently and are experiencing any of these symptoms it is recommended to contact a doctor.


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