Listeria

Background

Listeria is a bacteria that's capable of causing a rare but potentially life-threatening illness.

Healthy adults are likely to experience only mild infection, causing flu-like symptoms or gastroenteritis. Those most at risk of severe illness are:

  • pregnant women
  • newborn babies
  • the elderly
  • the immunocompromised

Infection during pregnancy can be passed to the foetus resulting in a variety of disease including miscarriage.

Listeria and food

Most cases of Listeria are due to contaminated food. Listeria is an unusual bacterium because it can grow at low temperatures, including refrigeration temperatures of below 5 degrees Celsius. It is, however, killed by cooking food thoroughly and by pasteurisation. Advice on which foods pregnant women should avoid to reduce the risk of listeriosis is available on the NHS inform website.

Listeria and lambing season

Listeria infection can also be acquired through direct contact with animals, in particular during lambing. Pregnant women are especially at risk and should avoid close contact with sheep who are giving birth, to protect themselves and their unborn child.

Guidance