The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are reporting that at least 28 people in 10 states have been infected with Listeria monocytogenes, a bug that causes flu-like symptoms and is particularly dangerous to children and the elderly. While they aren't sure how the strain is spreading, many signs point to prepackaged caramel apples as the culprit; the organization is urging Americans to not eat any commercially prepared, prepackaged caramel apple products. This isn't the first time stores have recalled possibly tainted fruits; earlier this year, several types of prepackaged fruit labeled Sweet 2 Eat, such as peaches and nectarines, were recalled. In 2012, listeria-tainted honeydew and cantaloupe melons were pulled off shelves, and tainted cantaloupes in 2011 resulted in 147 illnesses and 30 deaths. Coming down with a bout of listeriosis can be dangerous, so get the facts on what to look out for and what to do if you think you're infected.
What Is Listeriosis?
According to the CDC, listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food that's contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems are most at risk, but, rarely, it can affect others.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms usually begin with diarrhea or other tummy troubles, and patients soon develop a fever and body aches. Those at high risk may also develop a headache, stiff neck, mental confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, which can be signs of fatal meningitis or encephalitis. Pregnant woman typically experience mild symptoms, but an infection can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or a life-threatening infection to the little one after birth. Illness can show up anywhere from a few days to more than two months after eating contaminated food.
How Does It Get Into Food?
The bacterium survives in soil and water, which explains how it is sometimes found in produce. Another issue is that the listeria bacterium can live in a food processing factory for years, which then contaminates raw meats, fruits, and veggies or foods that have already been processed or cooked.
How Do I Prevent Contracting Listeriosis?
The best way to reduce your risk of getting sick is to cook raw food thoroughly, since listeria is killed when proper cooking procedures are followed. Rinse raw fruits and veggies well under running tap water and dry them with a paper towel. Also keep raw meats separate from veggies, stick to pasteurized dairy products, disinfect utensils and surfaces that have come in contact with uncooked foods, and make sure your fridge is set to 40°F or lower and the freezer 0°F or lower.
How Is Listeriosis Treated?
If you suspect you've been exposed to listeria and develop fever, chills, and other flu-like symptoms, contact your doctor immediately to get started on a dose of antibiotics.