LISTERIA can cause infections when swallowed, creating a host of problems.
We explain what symptoms you need to look out for and if you can die from it. Here is what we know.
What is Listeria?
Listeria is a bacteria that can cause the infection listeriosis if ingested.
It can grow and reproduce inside the host’s cells and is one of the most virulent food based pathogens.
Between 20 to 30 per cent of food borne listeriosis infections in high-risk individuals may be fatal.
The majority of people infected barely notice the illness but those who are high risk, such as pregnant women, babies, the elderly or those with a weakened immune system, may develop a serious infection.
Can you die from it?
In severe cases you can die from listeria.
Five hospital patients have died from the bacteria from dodgy sandwiches.
Public Health England confirmed on June 7 that an investigation had been launched after six patients picked up the bug.
The number of confirmed cases has since risen to nine.
What has happened in the latest outbreak?
The most recent outbreak has been in Sussex and so far six hospital patients have died after eating pre-packaged sandwiches and salads around the country.
The other deaths occurred at four different hospital trusts – two at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, one at Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool, one at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, and the fifth at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
One of the victims has been named as businessman Ian Hitchcock who died after eating a contaminated sandwich, a report found.
Mr Hitchcock was admitted to Royal Hospital Derby on 15 May, eight days after being diagnosed with liver cancer treatment, and died on 8 June after being transferred to Nottingham City Hospital.
There have been three other listeria cases in NHS hospitals but these have not been fatal.
The latest death is one of nine previously confirmed cases linked to products from the Good Food Chain, which has now ceased trading.
The latest individual, who has not been named, fell ill at the Western Sussex Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
Dr Maggie Davies, chief nurse and director of infection prevention and control, said: “Patient safety is always our absolute priority and as soon as we were informed we may have received contaminated chicken sandwiches from the Good Food Chain we removed all products from our hospitals.
“Since then, we have had no further listeriosis infections reported to us and we want to reassure our patients, visitors and staff that the risk remains very low.”
The Good Food Chain was supplied with meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats, which has since tested positive for the outbreak strain of listeria and also stopped production.
How do you catch it?
It is usually caught from eating food that contains the bacteria.
You can get it from many different types of food.
It mainly happens with these foods:
- unpasteurised milk
- dairy products made from unpasteurised milk
- soft cheeses, like Camembert and brie
- chilled ready-to-eat foods, like prepacked sandwiches, pâté and deli meats
If you have eaten these foods it does not automatically mean you will get listeria.
You should only go to the doctor if you start to feel the symptoms.
You can also catch listeria from someone else who has it, for example, if you eat food that was handled by someone who did not wash their hands.
If you get in close contact with farm animals – especially sheep and cows – when they are giving birth, you are also at risk.
What are the symptoms?
Most people only experience mild symptoms for a few days.
- a high temperature of 38C or above
- aches and pains
- feeling sick or vomiting
However, pregnant women, babies, those with a weak immune system and the elderly are at particular risk and should contact 111 immediately if they believe they have listeriosis.
You may need a blood test to determine if you’ve been infected.
You should call 999 or go to A&E if you experience more severe symptoms.
- a severe headache and stiff neck
- discomfort when looking at bright lights
- fits (seizures)
- sudden confusion
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How do you avoid listeriosis?
Here is what you can do to avoid getting the bacterial infection:
- wash your hands regularly with soap and water
- wash your fruit and vegetables before eating them
- store your ready-to-eat foods as recommended by the manufacturer
- make sure all your hot food is hot all the way through