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Listeria risk increased by poverty

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People living in poverty, especially those who belong to an ethnic minority, are more at risk of being infected with the listeria bacteria while pregnant than any other group of people, according to the Health Protection Agency.

A total of 1,510 cases of listeria were recorded in England and Wales during 2001-08. Of these, 181 were in pregnant women, 40% of whom belonged to an ethnic minority, the agency said.

Another set of figures from 2001-07 showed that listeria, which causes the listeriosis infection, was more prevalent in the poorest areas of England, compared with the wealthiest areas.

People in impoverished areas apparently rely more on local shops to buy groceries and are therefore more exposed to infection. Some research has claimed that small-shop owners have less food safety expertise than supermarkets, allegedly leading to more of their produce being contaminated.

The agency’s Iain Gillespie, in charge of listeria surveillance, said: “The first HPA study suggests that these food safety messages may not be reaching or may not be heeded by all pregnant women, particularly those from ethnic minorities. The second suggests that deprivation is an important risk factor for listeriosis, especially in older people and in pregnant women.”

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