4 Things You Should Know About Listeria

Listeria (Listeriosis) is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria (Listeriosis) is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Approximately 1,600 individuals become infected with Listeria annually, and about 260 of the cases result in death.1 In fact, Listeria is estimated to be the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States.1 Pharmacists can play an important role in educating patients to prevent this infection. Check out these 4 facts about Listeria.

1. Certain populations are at greater risk of developing Listeria infection. Pregnant women, immunocompromised patients, and adults 65 years of age and older are at an increased risk of developing Listeria infection. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to become infected with Listeria.1 Listeria can lead to serious complications for the fetus including miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.2

2. Symptoms of Listeria infection can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, fatigue, headache, stiff neck, confusion, and dizziness. Pregnant women typically experience fever and other flu-like symptoms. However, infection can lead to serious complications for the fetus or newborn.

3. Certain foods are more likely to cause Listeria infection. Listeria infections in the 1990s were associated with deli meats and hot dogs.1 Now, outbreaks have been linked with other foods such as soft cheeses, celery, sprouts, cantaloupe, and ice cream. Populations at higher risk of becoming infected with Listeria, especially pregnant women, should be educated to avoid eating the following foods:1,3

  • Soft cheeses such as queso fresco, queso blanco, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, or feta, unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk
  • Raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any kind
  • Hot dogs, lunch meats, cold cuts, deli meats, or dry sausages
  • Unpasteurized refrigerated pates or meat spreads
  • Unwashed raw produce such as fruits or vegetables
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood

Counsel patients to sign up for food recall alerts from the FDA website. Recalls are issued for foods that may be contaminated with Listeria.

4. Treatment depends upon whether the patient is experiencing symptoms. Individuals with a fever higher than 100.6 °F and signs and symptoms consistent with Listeria should be tested with blood cultures and treated with high dose intravenous ampicillin (at least 6 grams per day) for at least 14 days.1,4 Patients allergic to ampicillin may receive trimethoprim with sulfamethoxazole as an alternative therapy. Individuals who have consumed a food possibly contaminated with Listeria and are not experiencing symptoms generally do not need testing or treatment. Patients experiencing symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue along with a fever within 2 months of eating possibly contaminated food should seek medical attention immediately, especially if they are in a high risk group.


  • Listeria. CDC website. https://www.cdc.gov/listeria/index.html. Accessed February 11, 2017.
  • Listeria and pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Listeria-and-Pregnancy. Accessed February 11, 2017.
  • Checklist of foods to avoid during pregnancy. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website. https://www.foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant/chklist_pregnancy.html. Accessed February 12, 2017.
  • Management of pregnant women with presumptive exposure to Listeria monocytogenes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Management-of-Pregnant-Women-With-Presumptive-Exposure-to-Listeria-monocytogenes. Accessed February 12, 2017.

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