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Chicago Listeria Outbreak

Jan 30, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A listeria outbreak has been reported in Chicago and has stricken three pregnant women.  Medill Reports said three women who were infected with the dangerous pathogen suffered serious pregnancy complications.

Dr. Rick Holley of the Department of Food Science at the University of Manitoba in Canada explained that, “The organism grows at refrigerator temperature….  It will grow in the food processing plants. It will grow in a vacuumed package—it doesn’t need air to grow,” reported Medill.  Melanie Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Health confirmed, “This particular outbreak has three cases.  There have been two miscarriages and one [child] delivered, but premature,” reported Medill.  The baby tested positive for listeriosis, the disease caused by the listeria monocytegenes germ.

Holley explained that because the immune system is stressed during pregnancy and because white blood cell counts drops, the listeria pathogen can run amok.  “It goes to two places,” Holley said. “The brain—causing meningitis—or the placenta and sets up shop.  It will infect the placenta and may infect the fetus or it may not. If it infects the fetus, [spontaneous] abortion results.  But if it doesn’t and it just infects the placenta, during delivery [the child] will become affected,” quoted Medill.  CBS2Chicago reported that all three women reported having eaten soft cheeses; however, according to Medill Reports, no confirmation has been made about the exact source of the outbreak.

"It is very important that pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems avoid eating foods that are more likely to contain the Listeria bacteria, such as soft cheeses—including Brie, feta, and Mexican style soft or semi-soft cheese—unless the product clearly states it is made with pasteurized milk," Dr. Damon state director of public health, said, reported Medill.  "Although anyone can become sick from eating food contaminated with bacteria, pregnant women, newborns, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk," he added.

All three listeriosis cases tested positive for the same DNA pattern reported MyStateLine, which explained that listeria can be found in raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables; processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as cheese and cold cuts at the deli counter; and unpasteurized, or raw, milk or foods made from raw milk.

Listeriosis symptoms can develop in days or weeks and can vary from a mild flu-like illness to meningitis and septicemia; pregnant women can experience anything from miscarriage, still birth, or birth of an infected child.  Pregnant women are about 20 times likelier than others to be infected, with about one-third of listeriosis cases occurring during pregnancy; the incidence of listeriosis in newborns is 8.6 per 100,000 live births and the perinatal and neonatal mortality rate (stillbirths and early infant deaths) is 80 percent.  Those with compromised immune systems—such as people undergoing chemotherapy treatment or those diagnosed with HIV/AIDs and hepatitis—the very young, and the very old are also at risk.  Healthy individuals may suffer short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. In the United States, about 2,500 cases of listeria poisoning occur annually with about 200 in every 1000 cases resulting in death.

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