Listeriosis is an infection that can occur when a person eats food that has been contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes).
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is found in wild animals, domesticated animals, and in soil and water. These bacteria make many animals sick, leading to miscarriage and stillbirth in domestic animals.
Vegetables, meats, and other foods you eat can get infected with the bacteria if they come in contact with contaminated soil or manure. Raw milk or products made from raw milk may carry these bacteria.
If you eat the contaminated products, you may get sick. The following people are at increased risk:
Adults over age 50
Adults with a weakened immune system
The bacteria most often cause a gastrointestinal illness. In some cases, you can develop a blood infection (
Infection in early pregnancy may cause a miscarriage. The bacteria may cross the placenta and infect the developing baby. Infections in late pregnancy may lead to stillbirth or death of the infant within a few hours of birth. About half of infants infected at or near term will die.
In adults, the disease may take many forms, depending on what organ or organ systems are infected. It may occur as:
Heart infection (
Brain or spinal fluid injection (meningitis)
Lung infection (
Blood infection (septicemia)
Or it may occur in a milder form as:
In infants, symptoms of listeriosis may be seen in the first few days of life and may include:
- Loss of appetite
Lethargy Jaundice Respiratorydistress (usually pneumonia) Shock
- Skin rash
Signs and tests
Laboratory tests may be done to detect the bacteria in amniotic fluid, blood, feces, and urine. A
Antibiotics (including ampicillin or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) are prescribed to kill the bacteria that are causing the infection.
Listeriosis in a fetus or infant results in a poor outcome with a high death rate. Healthy older children and adults have a lower death rate. Gastrointenstinal infections in healthy persons are rarely fatal.
Infants who survive listeriosis may have long-term brain and nervous system (neurological) damage and delayed development.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you or your child develop symptoms of listeriosis.
Pregnant women should avoid contact with wild and domestic animals. Listeria is well controlled in American food products, but food-associated outbreaks have occurred.
Pregnant women should avoid eating soft cheeses, deli meats, and cold salads from salad bars. Foreign food products such as non-pasteurized soft cheeses have also led to outbreaks of listeriosis. Always cook food thoroughly.