Research by the United Kingdom Health Protection Agency has shown that cancer patients have a five-fold increased risk of developing listeria than people with other underlying conditions – and those those with cancers of the blood have the greatest risk. These findings are published in the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Listeriosis is a rare but serious foodborne illness caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Some groups of people can be more seriously affected by this type of food poisoning than others. Pregnant women and their unborn or newborn babies are at most risk, as well as the elderly and those with conditions that affect their immune system,

In addition to cancer, diseases of the liver, kidney and connective tissue (e.g. Lupus) as well as alcoholism, diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation of the intestines (e.g. Crohn’s disease) were also found to increase the risk of developing listeria.

Those receiving cancer treatment or suffering from a variety of conditions, including diabetes, kidney or liver disease, should be offered appropriate health advice on how to avoid listeria. At present this is given passively and mainly to pregnant women, but clearly there are other groups of people who need to be advised on what they can do to protect their health.

Listeria can cause serious illness or even death in those people who have serious underlying health conditions. Taking steps to avoid infection is a very important part of managing their health and these groups need to be made aware of how they should do this.

The current public health advice to vulnerable groups on preventing listeria is to avoid the following:

– Prepacked or delicatessen sliced meats

– Soft cheeses – brie, camembert and chevre (goat’s cheese)

– Smoked fish

– All kinds of pate including vegetable varieties

– Pre-prepared cooked and chilled meals

– Pre-prepared sandwiches

– Unpasteurized milk