Press Release

January 27, 2009


Three Cases of Listeriosis Found in Illinois

State public health director warns pregnant women and those with weakened immune system to beware of cheeses made from raw milk 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Dr. Damon T. Arnold, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, is reminding Illinoisans about taking precautions to avoid foodborne illnesses after three cases of listeriosis with the same DNA pattern have been reported in Illinois.

Three pregnant Hispanic women in Chicago and suburban Cook County tested positive for listeriosis after becoming ill in late November and December. All three women report eating different types of soft cheese. One woman delivered her baby who also tested positive for listeriosis, but the other two women suffered miscarriages.

“It is very important that pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems avoid eating foods that are more likely to contain the Listeria bacteria, such as soft cheeses – including Brie, feta and Mexican style soft or semi-soft cheese unless the product clearly states it is made with pasteurized milk. Although anyone can become sick from eating food contaminated with bacteria, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk,” said Dr. Arnold.

Pregnant women are approximately 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About one-third of all reported cases in Illinois happen during pregnancy. Infection during pregnancy may result in spontaneous abortion during the second and third trimesters or stillbirth.

People with weakened immune systems (for example - the elderly and people with cancer, diabetes, kidney disease or HIV/AIDS) are more likely to get listeriosis than people with normal immune systems.

Listeria can be found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in processed food, that become contaminated after processing, such as cheese and cold cuts at the deli counter. Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from raw milk may contain the bacteria.

A person with listeriosis usually has a fever, muscle aches and, sometimes, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, a person may experience a headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance or convulsions. It can be anywhere from three to 70 days after ingesting the bacteria before a person experiences symptoms.

To reduce the risk of listeriosis or any foodborne illness:

  • Thoroughly cook all raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods made from raw milk.
  • Wash hands, knives and other utensils, and cutting surfaces after handling uncooked foods.

Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should also:

  • Avoid soft cheeses (for example, feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined and Mexican-style soft or semi-soft cheese unless the product clearly states it is made with pasteurized milk). Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese or yogurt do not need to be avoided.
  • Cook left-over foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, until steaming hot before eating.
  • Although the risk of listeriosis associated with foods from deli counters is relatively low, pregnant women and people whose immune systems are suppressed may want to avoid these foods or thoroughly reheat cold cuts before eating.

For additional information about listeriosis, log onto

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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