Health Team

Officials Warn Pregnant Women About Tainted Food

Posted December 18, 2007 3:34 p.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2007 8:36 p.m. EST

— Two North Carolina women miscarried recently and a third went into premature labor after eating food contaminated with Listeria bacteria, state public health officials said Tuesday.

Officials suspect a fourth case.

The three confirmed cases involved Hispanic women and occurred after Thanksgiving. Women in Durham and Mecklenburg counties miscarried, and a woman in Moore County delivered early but is recovering, officials said.

Another woman in Buncombe County also miscarried in the suspected case of Listeriosis, officials said.

All four women had consumed soft cheeses from various sources, prompting public health officials to caution pregnant women against eating soft cheeses, hot dogs, deli-style meats and prepared salads.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria bacteria. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms like headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance or convulsions can occur.

The disease primarily affects pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems, and outbreaks have been associated with consumption of unpasteurized milk and contaminated soft cheeses, vegetables and ready-to-eat meats.

"This is a tragedy which could have been avoided," State Epidemiologist Dr. Jeff Engel said in a statement. "Listeriosis can be prevented by avoiding unpasteurized milk and other potentially contaminated food, especially among vulnerable people."

Tests showed different bacteria strains were involved in the fours cases. Because a single product doesn't seem to be the source of the bacteria, public health officials issued a general Listeria warning.

Officials provided the following recommendations to avoid Listeriosis:

  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources.
  • Wash raw vegetables before eating.
  • Wash hands, knives and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.