Food Poisoning? Probiotic Pill May Fight Listeria Infection
Some day, you may be able to take a pill or drink a beverage to help prevent food poisoning caused by Listeria. Purdue University researchers have discovered that modified probiotics may help prevent Listeria infection in people who have a weakened immune system.
Food poisoning affects millions of Americans each year
Each year in the United States, there are approximately 76 million illnesses associated with food poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many cases are mild, yet about 5,000 people die from food-borne diseases annually.
Among the pathogens responsible for food poisoning are Listeria, Salmonella, Toxoplasma, and E. coli, among others. The current study examined Listeria, which was the pathogen identified in cantaloupes in 2011 in the deadliest outbreak of food poisoning in more than a decade in the United States, with at least 16 deaths reported.
The Purdue researchers discovered that adding a probiotic to the Listeria protein responsible for allowing the bacteria to pass through intestinal cells into the bloodstream caused the protein to block the pathways to the blood. In this case, the researchers used the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus paracasei, which resulted in a 46% decrease in the amount of Listeria cells that reached the bloodstream.
According to study author Arun Bhunia, professor of food science, “Based on the research, it looks very promising that we would get a significant reduction in Listeria infections [listeriosis].”
Even a small amount of Listeria in the bloodstream can cause significant symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, and diarrhea. If it spreads to the nervous system, it can also cause headache, confusion, loss of balance, stiff neck, and convulsions.
Listeria infection is especially serious for pregnant women and anyone who has an impaired immune system. Pregnant women who become infected can experience stillbirth or spontaneous abortion. Individuals with a compromised immune system risk serious complications or death.
Although Listeria infection is usually contracted by eating unpasteurized milk products or poorly processed meats, it can be triggered by contaminated produce, as in the recent case of cantaloupes.
Can probiotics alone fight Listeria? Not according to the researchers, who decided to add the beneficial bacteria to the protein after discovering that probiotics alone were ineffective.
Bhunia noted that a pill or probiotic drink for high-risk patients to reduce their risk of Listeria infection could be on the horizon. For now, however, the recent test results will be applied to animal testing. Individuals who are at high risk for serious food poisoning infections should avoid eating foods that are most likely to contain Listeria.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Koo OK, Amalaradjou MAR, Bhunia AK. Recombinant probiotic expressing Listeria adhesion protein attenuates Listeria monocytogenes virulence in vitro. PLoS One 2012; 7(1): e29277
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons