Listeria outbreak linked to fish carries risk of ‘sepsis’ warn experts

Listeria in UK hospitals: Products been withdrawn says expert

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According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listeriosis is a serious infection caused by germs that people contract from contaminated foods. The disease can have grave consequences for pregnant women, older adults or anyone with an immune system, causing only mild symptoms in the otherwise healthy.

The outbreak was identified earlier in the year by genome sequences in individuals said to have eaten smoked fish.

One of the reported cases was a pregnant woman, for whom the risks of infection are particularly high.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the UK Health Security Agency, warned that people in some groups were at higher risk of meningitis and sepsis.

Doctor Caroline Handford, acting head of incidents at the FSA, said: “If anyone from these groups is eating ready-to-eat smoked fish, we are reminding them of the advice to ensure that it is thoroughly cooked before they eat, including when served as part of a dish.”

Ian McWatt, deputy chief executive of the FSS, added: “People can also further reduce the risk by keeping chilled ready-to-eat smoke fish cold (5 degrees celsius or below).”

He also stressed the importance of consuming products by their use-by date, following storage instructions, as well as cooking products until steaming hot.

The vulnerable groups listed by the health authorities were:

  • People over the age of 65
  • People with an underlying health conditions, including cancer, liver and kidney failure, and those taking immunosuppressive medications
  • Pregnant women, due to the risk of miscarriage and severe sepsis or meningitis in newborn babies.

According to the bodies, the risk of listeriosis may be exceptionally high among:

  • People with cancer
  • Organ transplant patient
  • Patients taking steroids
  • Patients undergoing immunosuppressive or cytotoxic.

As a precaution, people in these groups are being advised to avoid eating uncooked smoked fish.

Professor Saheer Gharbia, from the UKHSA, said: “Most people won’t have any symptoms of the infection or will only experience mild symptoms, such as abdominal pain or diarrhoea, which usually pass within a few days without the need for treatment.

“However, some people are at higher risk of much more serious illness.

“If you have any concerns about your health please speak to your midwife, GP or hospital specialist team.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the first symptoms likely to emerge in case of infection are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea.

The infection cannot be passed from person to person, though a pregnant woman could pass on the disease to an unborn baby.

What’s more, while non-vulnerable groups will likely see symptoms fade without medical treatment, sometimes trouble may ensue.

Bacterial meningitis and sepsis are two conditions known to be deadly without medical treatment.

The CDC states that more than 2,000 people get bacterial meningitis annually, and around 500 succumb to the disease.

Listeria infection leads to meningitis when the brain becomes infected, but when the infection enters the bloodstream instead, the outcome is sepsis.

The CDC adds: “Listeria can sometimes affect other parts of the body, including bones, joints, and sites in the chest and abdomen.”

The health body has issued the following advice to avoid infection:

  • Avoid drinking raw (unpasteurised milk or eating soft cheese made from it)
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours in shallow, covered containers and use within three to four days
  • Avoid cross-contamination in the refrigerator and other places in the kitchen
  • Use a thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is below four degrees celsius and your freezer below 0 degrees Celsius.

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