Navigate Up

Neurology Center - A-Z Index

#
J
Q
X
Y
Z

Print This Page

Listeriosis

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
  • Developing fetuses
  • Newborns
  • Pregnant women

The bacteria most often cause a gastrointestinal illness. In some cases, you can develop a blood infection (septicemia ) or inflammation of the covering of the brain (meningitis ). Infants who are 5 days or older and children often have meningitis.

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 (endocarditis )
  • Brain or spinal fluid injection (meningitis)
  • Lung infection (pneumonia )
  • Blood infection (septicemia)

Or it may occur in a milder form as:

Symptoms

In infants, symptoms of listeriosis may be seen in the first few days of life and may include:

Signs and tests

Laboratory tests may be done to detect the bacteria in amniotic fluid, blood, feces, and urine. A CSF culture will be performed if a spinal tap is performed.

Treatment

Antibiotics (including ampicillin or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) are prescribed to kill the bacteria that are causing the infection.

Expectations (prognosis)

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.

Complications

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.

Prevention

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.

References

Baltimore RS. Listeria monocytogenes. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 181.

Bennett L. Listeria monocytogenes. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 207.

Updated: 9/1/2013

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com