For most of us, a bout of food poisoning – though extremely unpleasant – is inconvenient rather than life threatening. But those with suppressed immune systems, whether due to illness, chronic disease, medication, increasing age or pregnancy, are more likely to suffer from food poisoning and also to suffer serious consequences as a result.
The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which is sometimes found in chilled ready-to-eat foods, can lead to serious illness in those who have suppressed immune systems. Although listeriosis, the disease caused by L. monocytogenes is rare, it’s estimated to cause the most deaths from foodborne illness in the UK each year.
The Health Protection Agency recently published two studies that reinforce our knowledge about listeriosis. Both studies examined cases of listeriosis that were not associated with pregnancy. One identified which medications were commonly taken by patients before they were diagnosed with listeriosis, which included chemotherapy drugs and corticosteroids. The other identified certain factors, including increasing age, particular cancers and treatment to reduce gastric acid secretion, which increased the likelihood of death as a result of listeriosis.
This information will help support our work to raise awareness of listeriosis among those with suppressed immune systems and promote behaviours and actions that can help prevent this rare but potentially fatal disease.
You can find advice on listeriosis, including simple steps on how to avoid infection, on NHS Choices.