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ACOG issues guidelines for managing listeriosis during pregnancy

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Treatment choices depend on the presence of fever for those exposed to food-born listeria



The first medical management guidelines for treating the bacteria listeria during pregnancy were recently released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).1

The new guidelines were developed in response to recent reports of recalls of listeria-contaminated food and concern because data show the incidence of listeriosis among pregnant women is approximately 13 times higher than in the general population.1 Maternal listeriosis can cause significant fetal and perinatal complications, including miscarriage, preterm labor, stillbirth, as well as neonatal listeriosis and neonatal death.2

“It is essential for ObGyns not only to be aware of the best ways to manage the care of a pregnant patient who has been exposed to listeria bacteria, but, just as important, to counsel pregnant women regarding how to avoid potential exposure,” said Jeffrey L. Ecker, MD, chair of the ACOG Committee on Obstetric Practice.2

Symptoms of listeriosis are similar to a flu-like infection and can include fever, muscle pain, backache, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea.2

The Committee Opinion offers management recommendations for three scenarios1:

  • Asymptomatic women who have been exposed to listeria: No testing is necessary unless symptoms develop within 2 months of exposure. Listeriosis-related fetal surveillance is unnecessary.
  • No fever, with mild symptoms consistent with listeriosis: A pregnant woman who has been exposed to a listeria-containing food and is displaying mild symptoms, but does not have a fever, does not require culture testing (although it may be done). If her blood is tested, the laboratory should be informed about the listeriosis threat so that the bacteria is not confused with a contaminant.
  • Fever, with or without symptoms consistent with listeriosis: A pregnant woman who has been exposed and has a fever exceeding 100.6°F should undergo blood culture testing. Because results will not be available for several days, the Committee Opinion recommends simultaneous listeriosis treatment for the patient and surveillance of the fetus.

Preventive measures to avoid listeria exposure include not eating the following foods1:

  • hot dogs, lunch meats, cold cuts served cold or heated to less than 165°F
  • refrigerated pate and meat spreads
  • refrigerated smoked seafood
  • raw (unpasteurized) milk
  • unpasteurized soft cheese (feta, queso blanco, Brie, blue-veined cheeses)
  • unwashed raw produce (when eating raw fruits and vegetables, skin should be washed thoroughly in running tap water, even if it will be peeled or cut).

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