Listeria Infections in Pr…

Pregnancy is supposed to be a time of joyful anticipation. Of course, pregnancy losses do happen, but often they occur early in the pregnancy, because there were medical issues with the fetus making it impossible for the baby to be carried to term. As difficult as these losses are, parents are often able to accept that they were unavoidable and come to terms with their grief.

Much more difficult to accept are those pregnancy losses which are avoidable, especially when they take place later in pregnancy. Among these losses are those caused by listeria (Listeria monocytogenes), a foodborne pathogen which causes illness (listeriosis) that doctors may fail to diagnose and treat, with devastating outcomes.

Listeria Infections in Pregnancy and the Risk of Pregnancy Loss

According to the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG), the incidence of listeriosis in pregnancy is about 13 times higher than the incidence in the general population. Listeriosis is caused by consumption of food that is contaminated with listeria. Listeria contamination has been found in fruits such as cantaloupes and apples, uncooked meats and vegetables, milk (both pasteurized and unpasteurized) and many types of processed foods.

When a pregnant woman is infected with listeria, she may present with flu-like symptoms, including headache, backache, muscle pain, and fever, and possibly gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea. As unpleasant as infection can be for the woman, it can be lethal for her fetus. Listeria infection has been known to cause miscarriage or preterm labor, and sepsis, meningitis, cerebral palsy, and death in newborns. Pregnancy losses often take place later in the pregnancy, making them especially devastating for the parents involved.

Standard of Care for Treatment of Listeriosis in Pregnancy

ACOG has described the standard of care for the diagnosis and treatment of listeriosis in pregnant women. A pregnant woman who has been exposed to listeria, with a fever above 100.6° and other symptoms that are consistent with listeriosis should be presumed to have listeriosis, and should be simultaneously tested and treated for the disease if there is no other cause of illness known. Treatment is not indicated for a pregnant woman who has reportedly have consumed a product that was recalled for listeria contamination, but who is asymptomatic.

Testing for listeriosis may involve cultures from spinal fluid, placental tissue, blood, or stool. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics.

If you were pregnant and reported flu-like or gastrointestinal symptoms to your doctor, particularly if you had a fever, they should have considered the possibility of listeriosis and immediately commenced treatment and testing. If they failed to do so, and you or your baby became seriously ill (or worse) as a result, your doctor may have committed medical malpractice.

What to Do If You Suspect Malpractice

Of course, nothing can truly make up for the loss of, or a serious injury to, your baby. Even so, if your doctor was negligent in diagnosing or treating your listeriosis, you deserve compensation, and your doctor needs to be held accountable. Your time to file a claim for medical malpractice is limited by law. While it's certainly not the first thing you need to do while grieving your loss, you don't want to wait too long. Under most circumstances, a claim for medical malpractice in Oregon must be filed within two years of the act that gave rise to the claim.

If you suspect your doctor's failure to diagnose listeriosis caused your pregnancy loss or injury to you or your infant, we invite you to contact our Portland, Oregon law office. We have dealt with hundreds of cases of medical malpractice, including obstetrical malpractice. Our attorneys will offer you the information you need and the support and compassion you deserve at this difficult time.