The ongoing queso fresco outbreak is spotlighting the tremendous risk Listeria poses to pregnant women, especially those who are Hispanic.
Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to contract listeriosis, 24 times more likely if they are Hispanic. And, among pregnant women, these infections can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and infection in newborns even if the expectant mother experiences only mild illness.
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This outbreak, linked to cheeses produced by El Abuelito of Paterson, NJ, has sickened 11 people, one of whom has died, according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Two of the illnesses are pregnancy-associated and include a newborn and a pregnant woman who are unrelated, a CDC spokesman told Food Poisoning Bulletin. Like all but one of the patients sickened in this outbreak, the pregnant woman and the newborn are Hispanic.
Cheeses, especially soft cheeses, are a common source of Listeria outbreaks. Of the 21 Listeria outbreaks the CDC announced between 2011 and 2021, eight were associated with cheese. No other food was linked to even half that number. Ham/deli meat, the second most commonly cited food source, was linked to three outbreaks. The rest of the foods were each associated with one outbreak.
Pregnancy and Cheese Listeria Outbreaks
Pregnancy-associated illnesses were reported in seven of the eight cheese Listeria outbreaks. In addition the current outbreak, the six other cheese Listeria outbreaks with pregnancy-associated illnesses were:
- A 2017 Listeria outbreak linked to Vulto Creamery soft raw milk cheese sickened eight people including one newborn.
- A 2015 outbreak linked to soft cheeses made by Karoun Dairies included 30 illnesses and three deaths. Six of the illnesses were pregnancy-related, one resulted in a fetal loss.
- A 2014 Listeria outbreak linked to Oasis cheeses sickened five people, killing one of them. All of the patients were Hispanic. One case diagnosed in a newborn was pregnancy-related.
- A 2014 Listeria outbreak linked to Roos Cheese sickened eight people, one of whom died. All of the patients were Hispanic. Five cases were pregnancy-related including three newborns and two of their mothers.
- A 2013 Listeria outbreak linked to Crave Brothers cheese sickened six people one of whom died. One of the illnesses was pregnancy-related and resulted in a miscarriage.
- A 2012 Listeria outbreak linked to Frescolina Ricotta Salata cheese sickened 22 people, four of whom died. Nine of the illnesses were pregnancy-related including three newborns. One fetal loss was reported.
Why Are Pregnant Women at High Risk?
For years, it was thought that pregnant women were at elevated risk for Listeria infections because their immune systems were suppressed. But researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that when a pregnant woman eats food contaminated with Listeria, the bacteria makes its way to the placenta where it can hide from the immune system multiplying in great numbers before invading the rest of the body.
Symptoms of a Listeria infection include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, loss of balance, diarrhea and upset stomach. Usually, these symptoms develop within two weeks of exposure but sometimes they can take as long as 70 days to appear. The people sickened in this outbreak said they first began experiencing symptoms on dates ranging from October 20, 2020, to February 14, 2021.
El Abuelito Queso Fresco Recall
El Abueltio has issued recalls for queso fresco products sold under the brand names El Abuelito, Rio Grande, and Rio Lindo; and for the Quesillo and Requeson products sold under the brand names El Abuelito, Viejito, El Paisano, El Sabrosito, La Cima, Quesos Finos, San Carlos, and Ideal brands. Anyone who has eaten these cheeses and develops symptoms of a Listeria infection should see a doctor right away.
If you or a family member are part of this outbreak and would like a free consultation with our experienced team of Listeria lawyers, please contact us today by calling 888-377-8900 (toll-free), texting 612-261-0856, or by completing the form below.