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Lysteria hysteria: How to know if you've been poisoned

Written by
Clayton Guse
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Listeriosis, an infection caused by the bacterium listeria monocytogenes, has drawn a great deal of attention recently. In the past year, a listeria infection in some Blue Bell ice cream products led to the deaths of three consumers. Just last week, a detection of the bug caused Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams to close all of its shops and recall all of its products.

If you had an "oh shit" moment when you heard about the Jeni's recall, there's little cause for fear. Lysteria infections are rarely fatal, and the pint of Wildberry Lavender that you ate in a single sitting last week was probably untainted. That being said, it's worth being aware of some of the disease's symptoms. Here are a few things to know about the organism that's messing with our dairy intake.

Ice cream infected with listeria stems from unpasteurized milk

The medical community has long warned about the dangers of raw, unpasteurized milk, but people are still drinking it anyway. When untreated dairy makes its way into a food processing factory, the risk for listeria presents itself. Milk products aren't the only source, though. The bacterium has also shown up in uncooked hot dogs and some deli meats and cheeses.

The incubation period can last more than two months

According to FoodSafety.gov, the incubation period for listeria ranges from three to 70 days. This means there could be an army of listeria cells building up in your gut for more than two months before you experience the first symptoms of an infection. If your tummy starts rumbling in June, it could be from the ice cream you ate in April. 

Initial symptoms include a fever, muscle aches and diarrhea 

As is the case with many types of food poisoning, the first telltale sign of a listeriosis infection is intense nausea and violent diarrhea. If you've eaten products recalled for listeria recently and find yourself bathroom-ridden for a couple of days, make sure to pay a visit to your doctor to be sure the disease doesn't spread. If untreated, the infection can cause a loss of balance, convulsions, neck pain and general confusion.

Pregnant women, children and the elderly are at the highest risk

If you have a high-functioning immune system, a listeriosis infection should leave you with nothing more than the heebie jeebies. If you're pregnant, a baby, an elderly person, a recent recipient of an organ transplant or have a life-threatening disease, listeria can be very dangerous. If any of these apply to you, you're probably keeping a close eye on your food intake already. If your obstetrician has been suggesting that you wash down raw hot dogs with unpasteurized milk, you might want to consider changing doctors. 

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