A well written piece in the Washington Post today by Jennifer LaRue Huget details the story of two twins, Luke and Chloe Bennett, who survived a listeria infection at birth.  Listeria is the common name for the pathogenic or disease-causing bacterium known as Listeria monocytogenes. It is a foodborne illness that when ingested causes an infection known as listeriosis.  Approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths are attributed to listeriosis in the United States annually.

The story details the Bennett children’s harrowing illness:

Bennett’s [the twins’ mother] premature labor and subsequent illness were caused, a quick-thinking nurse recognized, by listeria, food-borne bacteria that most commonly taint deli meats and soft cheeses.

The contamination caused Bennett’s body to go into sepsis; her son, hit harder than his sister, suffered seizures, for which he needed medication for months. The Bennetts waited five days after the babies were born to spread the news, so uncertain were they that both would live.

Listeria infections can be difficult to recognize and to trace-back.   The incubation period is comparatively long, up to 70 days.   Second, while most bacteria grow poorly when temperatures fall below 40°F, Listeria survives at temperatures from below freezing to body temperature, and grows best at the 0°F to 50°F range, which includes the temperature range used for freezing and refrigeration.