Listeriosis is a rare form of meningitis (infection of the membranes surrounding the brain) in newborn babies caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes that can be caught from contaminated food, particularly soft cheeses (eg. brie, camembert), cold meats (eg. salami, paté), cold seafood (eg. sushi, prawns) and salads.
In adults and children, the bacteria usually causes no symptoms and is harmless, but if a pregnant woman is infected, the bacteria may spread through her bloodstream to the placenta and foetus, where it may cause widespread infection, miscarriage, or death of the foetus and a stillbirth.
Antibiotics can be used in newborn infants, but they are often not successful. Treatment is more successful if started during pregnancy, but the infection is rarely detected before the infant is born. Infants that survive birth suffer from a form of septicaemia (blood infection) that soon progresses to a form of meningitis that is frequently fatal.