Listeria may pose greater risk of early miscarriage, UW researchers say

Listeria may pose a greater risk of early miscarriages than previously thought, according to research released this week.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine are studying how pathogens affect fetal development and change the outcome of pregnancy.

According to a news release Tuesday, researchers believe that the inflammation caused by the maternal immune response to the fast-moving listeria infection also affects the placenta, keeping it from protecting the fetus.

“It’s striking that mom doesn’t get particularly ill from listeria infection, but it has a profound impact on the fetus,” said Ted Golos, a UW-Madison reproductive physiologist and professor of comparative biosciences and obstetrics and gynecology. “That’s familiar now, because we’ve been talking about the same difference in Zika virus.”

Listeria may pose greater risk of early miscarriage, UW researchers say

The common bacteria is found in unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, raw sprouts, melon and deli meats. Researchers say it may be the culprit in some unexplained miscarriages.

Pregnant women are warned to avoid many of the foods that can harbor listeria, because the bacterium is known to cause miscarriage and stillbirth, and spur premature labor.

The severe outcomes have resulted in a zero tolerance regulatory policy for listeria in ready-to-eat foods, according to the university. But when it occurs, listeria infection in pregnancy may go unnoticed. The few recognizable symptoms are nearly indistinguishable from the discomfort most newly pregnant women feel.

Golos’ work is funded by the National Institutes of Health.