Listeria Poses Danger to Cancer Patients

A study conducted by University of Manchester and Health Protection Agency researchers suggests that cancer patients experience a five-fold increased risk of developing <"">listeria poisoning versus those with other, different underlying conditions said the University of Manchester. Patients suffering from blood cancers experience the greatest risks. The study appears in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause Listeriosis, a potentially fatal disease. While healthy people rarely contract Listeriosis, the infection can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Listeriosis is known to result in serious, sometimes fatal, infections in those with weakened immune systems, such as infants, the elderly, persons with HIV infection, and those undergoing chemotherapy.

In pregnant women, Listeriosis can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth of a baby suffering from the infection. Pregnant women are about 20 times likelier than others to be infected; listeriosis can kill fetuses, prompt premature births, and can lead to hearing loss or brain damage in newborns and neurological effects and cardio respiratory failure in adults.

Listeria monocytogenes infects about 2,500 people in the U.S., killing 500. According to University of Manchester data, listeria incidence in England has increased from 2.1 cases per million between 1990 and 2000 to 3.6 cases per million between 2001 and 2009; increases are also being seen in other European countries and in people over 60.

The researchers analyzed 1,413 people with listeriosis between 1999 and 2009; expectant mothers and unborn and newborn children were not involved, said the University of Manchester. Of the 1,413, over two-thirds—936—were diagnosed with no less than one concurrent condition in addition to listeriosis, said the University.

The team found that, in those with concurrent conditions, people aged 60 or over experienced listeriosis at a rate of 16.8 per million versus younger people whose rate was 4.6 per million, said the University of Manchester. Listeriosis rates were 4.9 times higher for cancer patients versus patients with other concurrent conditions, noted the University of Manchester.

In cancer patients, the highest rate was seen in those suffering from cancers of the blood and was 17.6 times higher than seen in other conditions, said the University of Manchester, which pointed out that cancer was the most frequently seen concurrent condition in listeriosis cases. One-third of the cancer patients were diagnosed with a malignancy and 41 percent of the cancers were blood borne.

Those with diseases of the liver, kidney, and connective tissue—such as Lupus—alcoholism, diabetes, high blood pressure, and inflammation of the intestines—for instance, Crohn’s disease—experienced an increased risk for developing listeriosis, said the University of Manchester.

Professor Sarah O’Brien of Manchester’s School of Translational Medicine, said, “Our work with the Health Protection Agency has shown that people receiving cancer treatment or who have conditions like diabetes, kidney or liver disease, are at much higher risk of listeria infection and, so, need good food-safety advice about preventing it. Certain foods, like prepacked or delicatessen sliced meats, soft cheeses, smoked fish, pates, and unpasteurised milk, are known to increase the risk of listeria infection in vulnerable people. This research is a timely reminder to clinicians looking after people in these vulnerable groups to alert them to avoid high-risk foods and thereby reduce their risk of this serious illness,” quoted the University of Manchester.

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