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Listeriosis is a relatively uncommon disease caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is widespread in nature and is commonly found in soil, water, mud, vegetation and sewage. It can also be found in raw meat, raw vegetables and unpasteurised dairy products. Some exposure to these bacteria is unavoidable. Every day, most healthy people eat foods that contain small amounts of Listeria with no apparent ill effects.

Listeriosis is of particular concern to pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system, such as diabetics, cancer and transplant patients, people who are HIV positive, and people with a history of alcohol abuse, as these people are at increased risk of contracting the disease. Although the infection may cause minor or no symptoms in healthy people, including pregnant women, the risk of infection from a pregnant woman to her unborn child is high. Infection during pregnancy may lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or a very ill newborn. The death rate in infected newborn babies is 20-30%.

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    Last updated: 5 June 2023

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