North Carolina health officials announced that at least three pregnant women recently suffered the effects of listeriosis, the illness caused by the ingestion of Listeria monocytogenes – a foodborne pathogen

It is believed that ingestion of as few as 1,000 cells of Listeria bacteria can result in illness. After ingestion of food contaminated with Listeria, incubation periods for infection are in the range of 3 to 70 days, usually 4 to 21 days.

Five days to three weeks after ingestion, Listeria has access to all body areas and may involve the central nervous system, heart, eyes, or other locations.4 Fetuses of pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the Listeria bacterium. A person with listeriosis usually has fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion, obtundation or convulsions can occur. With brain involvement, listeriosis may mimic a stroke.

Infected pregnant women will ordinarily experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth. The perinatal and neonatal mortality rate is 80%.

The News & Observer reported on the listeriosis cases, which at this point are reportedly not related.

Two North Carolina women, including one in Durham County, suffered stillbirths and a third delivered prematurely after consuming foods tainted with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, state public health officials said today.

The three cases, which included a stillbirth in Mecklenberg County and a premature birth in Moore County, are considered unrelated, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health.

The infections are thought to be linked to soft, unpasteurized cheeses popular in Hispanic cuisine. All three women are Hispanic.

Another pregnant woman in Buncombe County lost her baby to what public health officials suspect is a fourth case of listeriosis. The ethnicity of that woman is unknown.