The information provided below is for readers based in the United States of America. Readers outside of the United States of America should seek the information from local sources.

What is listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a disease caused by eating food contaminated with a species of bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. In other words, it is a type of food poisoning. The foods with the highest risk are ready-to-eat foods, packaged foods designed for long shelf-lives, soft cheeses, deli meats, and raw seafood, including sushi.

How common is listeriosis during pregnancy?

Listeria disease is fairly rare, but the risk of getting sick from this organism is highest in newborn infants, people with a compromised immune system (such as people with AIDS and those taking certain medications), elderly people, and especially pregnant women. In fact, if you are pregnant, your risk of developing listeriosis is 18 times higher than that of people in the general population. Scientists think this is because of particular aspects of the immune system not working as well during pregnancy.

How is listeriosis diagnosed during pregnancy diagnosed?

Diagnosis is of listeriosis is achieved by finding the organism L. monocytogenes in your blood.

Does listeriosis cause problems during pregnancy?

Listeriosis during pregnancy can develop as gastrointestinal upset and/or flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, muscle and back pains, and sore throat. The most severe cases may include sepsis, which is life-threatening.

Does listeriosis during pregnancy cause problems for the baby?

Listeriosis can cause spontaneous abortion, premature labor and delivery, infection of the membranes that surround the fetus (chorioamnionitis), and stillbirth. Problems occurring in the newborn after birth can include neonatal sepsis (infection throughout the newborns system) pneumonia, and meningitis.

What to consider about taking medications when you are pregnant or breastfeeding:

  • The risks to yourself and your baby if you do not treat the listeriosis. These can be significant
  • The risks and benefits of each medication you use when you are pregnant
  • The risks and benefits of each medication you use when you are breastfeeding

What should I know about using medication to treat listeriosis during pregnancy?

Listeriosis is treated with medication consisting of one or more antibiotics. One option is ampicillin by itself. Another option is the combination of ampicillin with a different class of antibiotic called an aminoglycoside. The most common aminoglycoside is gentamicin. Other antibiotics that can be used in the event of an allergy, or other problems, include erythromycin, vancomycin, a combination drug called trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, and any drug from the category of fluoroquinolones. If listeria is diagnosed early and antibiotic treatment begins immediately, the chances of recovery are much higher than if treatment is delayed.

Who should NOT stop taking medication for listeriosis during pregnancy?

Listeria could be fatal. Therefore, if you need antibiotics, you cannot stop taking them until the treatment is complete.

What should I know about choosing a medication for my listeriosis during pregnancy?

The antibiotics that are given to pregnant women with listeriosis help protect the fetus as much as to protect the mother. The same antibiotics are given to infants who have the disease, so there is little concern about exposure to the medications in the womb.

You may find Pregistrys expert reports about the individual medications to treat listeriosis here. Additional information can also be found in the sources listed at the end of the report.

What should I know about taking a medication for my listeriosis when I am breastfeeding?

The antibiotics that are given to mothers with listeriosis help protect the newborn as much as to protect the mother. The same antibiotics are given to infants who have the disease, so there is no concern about exposure to the medications through breastmilk. However, if you have listeriosis to the point that you require antibiotics, most likely you will not feel up to breastfeeding. Using infant formula might be the more prudent course in this case.

What alternative therapies besides medications can I use to treat my listeriosis during pregnancy?

If listeriosis has spread through your body, medications are necessary, as the condition is life-threatening.

What can I do for myself and my baby when I have listeriosis during pregnancy?

Cooperate with your doctors by accepting all recommended tests for listeriosis and accept all medications, since this is a life-threatening illness.

Resources for listeriosis in pregnancy:

For more information about listeriosis during and after pregnancy, contact (800-994-9662 [TDD: 888-220-5446]) or read the following articles:


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General information

It is very common for women to worry about having a miscarriage or giving birth to a child with a birth defect while they are pregnant. Many decisions that women make about their health during pregnancy are made with these concerns in mind.

For many women these concerns are very real. As many as 1 in 5 pregnancies end in a miscarriage, and 1 in 33 babies are born with a birth defect. These rates are considered the background population risk, which means they do not take into consideration anything about the health of the mom, the medications she is taking, or the family history of the mom or the baby’s dad. A number of different things can increase these risks, including taking certain medications during pregnancy.

It is known that most medications, including over-the-counter medications, taken during pregnancy do get passed on to the baby. Fortunately, most medicines are not harmful to the baby and can be safely taken during pregnancy. But there are some that are known to be harmful to a baby’s normal development and growth, especially when they are taken during certain times of the pregnancy. Because of this, it is important to talk with your doctor or midwife about any medications you are taking, ideally before you even try to get pregnant.

If a doctor other than the one caring for your pregnancy recommends that you start a new medicine while you are pregnant, it is important that you let them know you are pregnant.

If you do need to take a new medication while pregnant, it is important to discuss the possible risks the medicine may pose on your pregnancy with your doctor or midwife. They can help you understand the benefits and the risks of taking the medicine.

Ultimately, the decision to start, stop, or change medications during pregnancy is up to you to make, along with input from your doctor or midwife. If you do take medications during pregnancy, be sure to keep track of all the medications you are taking.

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