News Release

August 22, 2005

HDHHS identifies area rise in cases of Listeriosis

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) has detected an upsurge this month in the number of cases of listeriosis, a serious illness that can result in miscarriages, stillbirths, premature delivery and babies born with the life-threatening infection.

HDHHS has identified six listeria cases so far this month, all among Hispanics. They include three pregnant women, two newborns and an elderly woman. Surveillance records indicate about eight cases are reported every year to HDHHS.

Eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, found in soil and water, causes the illness. Bacteria can contaminate foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products.

Those at high risk of becoming infected are pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems because of AIDS, cancer, diabetes and kidney disease.

Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches and diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms may also include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance or convulsions.

HDHHS warns against eating unpasteurized (raw) dairy products such as soft cheeses and recommends people cook left over foods or ready-to-eat-foods such as hot dogs until steaming hot.

Other recommendations include:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources such as beef, pork or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat-foods.
  • Wash hands, knives and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year in the United States 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis and 500 die.