Sunday, September 02, 2007
Ok, so the picture of a wheel of Brie is somewhat misleading. Soft cheeses are the most notorious source of the Listeria bacterium, but you're about as likely to get it from unwashed produce, poorly cooked meat (ie, not cooked all the way through--the fact that your dad thinks everything up to and including filet mignon is improved by a slathering of barbeque sauce has nothing to do with your susceptibility), or contact with sick farm animals. Of course, since soft cheese once caused a big outbreak (these days the few cheese-related cases that do occur are linked to queso blanco, the Mexican equivalent of farmer's cheese) pregnant women and those with weak immune systems are advised to avoid soft, flowing, delicious Brie et al. altogether. Which is a pity. This is also why you can't get cheese aged less than 60 days, or raw-milk cheese, in the US. That, and the USDA is full of crap. Oh, but I'll bust their chops another time. You can support factory farming and use the government school lunch program as a dumping ground for federally subsidized overproduction of high-fructose corn syrup, but when you keep me from having raw-milk Camembert you've gone too far! Just kidding--factory farming and making America's children hyperactive and obese is also not OK. But at least it's profitable! Hey! I'll be here all week...try the veal.
Why all the fuss? Because listeriosis in pregnant women is nasty, that's why. Not so bad for the average, healthy adult--most people get a little fever, maybe a headache and some nausea--but pregnant women can pass it to the fetus, which may then be born with septicemia (ie, a blood infection...Very Bad News) or encephalitis (an infection of the brain-al area...also Very Bad News), or may just be stillborn outright. Immunocompromised folks may have the same symptoms. Treatment is pretty simple: a course of penicillin, or erythromycin if the patient can't have penicillin for some reason. Cephalosporins (my personal favorite antibiotic class, since I get skin infections on occasion from all the sweaty running I do) don't work for listeriosis, so don't go trying to prescribe Keflex for it.
Next time we do the Disease of the Day feature (I need to put up some more poetry and possibly do another Lesbian Pulp Fiction day before we do any more diseases) it'll either be a hemorrhagic fever or a parasitic infection. Lassa fever or Leischmaniasis? Hantavirus or hookworms? Stay tuned...