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How Does Listeria Cause Miscarriage?

Listeria is a food borne bacteria that is known to be present in raw fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meat and unpasteurized milk products.

How Does Listeria Cause Miscarriage?

How Does Listeria Cause Miscarriage?

Why is listeria a more serious threat in expectant mothers ? Pregnant women should especially be careful of listeria infection. This infection has been reported to cause serious outcomes in expectant mothers and the new born.

Expecting mothers are advised to steer clear of certain foods that have a higher chance of containing this organism and leading to listeria infection. Dairy products like unpasteurized milk and certain kinds of cheese, fruits like melon and ready to made deli foods have a higher chance of causing infection and should be avoided.

In cases where the listeria infection is contracted during pregnancy, it is more harmful for the fetus as compared to the mother. It is known to cause miscarriage in early months and then towards the end of the pregnancy it is reported to result in stillbirths or premature labor.

When the Listeria organism enters the expectant mother through the food consumed, it goes to the stomach and intestine. The organism then finds its way into the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, the organism then finds its way to the placenta (the tissue that connects the mother and the fetus) and the endometrium (this is the lining of the uterus). These tissues contain specialized immune cells that form the defense system for the fetus and prevent the transmission of any bacteria. The infection of these tissues results in immediate adverse effects on the fetus and is a huge contributor to the cause of miscarriage. In addition, the growth of listeria in the mother body also activates her immune system which causes inflammation in the internal tissues which again has an adverse effect on the placenta.

There are treatments available to treat listeria infection. Effective antibiotics regimen taken early on in the pregnancy can result in curing this infection and having a safe pregnancy and delivery. However, in most cases the outcomes are not favorable and result in adverse effects on the fetus. The main reason for this is that the infection is generally without physical symptoms. These indistinguishable symptoms in combination with the speed of this bacterial infection usually results in a poor prognosis for the fetus. As the fetus is already infected when the infection is diagnosed, there is little that can be done to prevent adverse outcomes.

Why Is It Difficult To Diagnose Listeria During Pregnancy?

One of the biggest challenges in treating listeria during pregnancy is the delay in the diagnosis of the infection. Since most of the common symptoms of the disease resemble those experienced by women during their pregnancy, it often goes undiagnosed and left untreated. Without any obvious physical symptoms, the only way to detect the infection is if specific laboratory investigations were performed by drawing some blood and tissue samples. Listeria can be diagnosed when a bacterial culture grows Listeria monocytogenes from body fluids or tissues such as the blood, spinal fluid or the placenta.

Who Are More Sensitive To The Listeria Infection And So At Greater Risk?

Listeria is a food borne bacteria and causes symptoms similar to food poisoning in the infected population. In most cases, this is not a serious threat to the health of the patient and the prognosis is good. However, some patient populations are more sensitive to this bacterium as compared to the general population. In these individuals, the infection can take on a deadly form and result in serious comorbidities including death.

In most cases, elderly patients, patients with chronic illness (like diabetes, liver disease and end stage renal disease) patients with compromised immune systems (such as those with cancer, HIV/AIDSs, undergoing organ transplant and taking immunosuppressant’s) and pregnant women and infants and new born babies, are in this special category of population who are at a higher risk of listeria.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Listeria (Listeriosis).” Link
  2. American Pregnancy Association. “Listeria and Pregnancy.” Link
  3. Mayo Clinic. “Listeria infection.” Link
  4. FoodSafety.gov. “Pregnant Women and Listeriosis.” Link
  5. Healthline. “Listeria Infection (Listeriosis): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.” Link
  6. NHS. “Listeriosis (Listeria infection).” Link
  7. World Health Organization (WHO). “Listeriosis.” Link

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 18, 2023

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