The gram-positive bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is an ubiquitous, intracellular pathogen which has been implicated within the past decade as the causative organism in several outbreaks of foodborne disease. Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die. The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women
and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. Listeriosis, with a mortality rate of about 24%, is found mainly among pregnant women, their fetuses, and immunocompromised persons, with symptoms of abortion, neonatal death, septicemia, and meningitis. Epidemiological investigations can make use of strain-typing procedures such as DNA restriction enzyme analysis or electrophoretic enzyme typing. The organism has a multifactorial virulence system, with the thiol-activated hemolysin, listeriolysin O, being identified as playing a crucial role in the organism's ability to multiply within host phagocytic cells
and to spread from cell to cell. The organism occurs widely in food, with the highest incidences being found in meat, poultry, and seafood products.