Listeria infections (known as listeriosis) are rare. When they do happen, they usually affect pregnant women in their last trimester, newborns, and people whose immunity is weakened by diseases such as cancer or HIV. People who have had various types of transplants are also more at risk for listeria infection.
Listeria infections are caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which can spread through soil and water. A person also can ingest these bacteria by eating certain foods, such as deli meats and cold cuts, soft-ripened cheese, milk, undercooked chicken, uncooked hot dogs, shellfish, and coleslaw made from contaminated cabbage. Many cases of infection, though, don't have an identifiable source.
Infections caused by Listeria include gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea, also called the "stomach flu"), bacteremia (bacterial infection in the blood), meningitis, pneumonia, osteomyelitis (infection in the bone), and endocarditis.
Listeria infections may cause symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, difficulty breathing, and poor feeding. Pregnant women who develop listeriosis may only have mild flu-like symptoms, but they are at risk for premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth.
People who have weakened immune systems are at particular risk for developing the more serious illnesses from listeriosis, including pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis.
Fortunately, cases of listeriosis are relatively uncommon. The earlier listeriosis is detected and treated, the better, since it can cause serious and life-threatening infection. And particularly if you are pregnant or in one of the other high-risk groups, avoiding certain foods and drinks can reduce your risk of getting this infection.
Listeriosis is usually treated with antibiotics in the hospital through an intravenous catheter (IV) through a vein. Treatment lasts for about 10 days, but that can vary depending on the body's ability to fight off the infection.
Children whose immune systems are compromised by illness or infection, such as cancer or HIV, are more likely to develop severe listeriosis infections and may need further treatment.
In healthy people with gastroenteritis due to Listeria, symptoms often last only 2 days and they recover completely.
There are no vaccines against the bacteria that cause listeriosis. But you can help protect your family with these food safety precautions:
Call your doctor immediately if your child develops rapid or labored breathing, a fever, poor feeding, vomiting, dehydration, a high-pitched cry, lethargy (excessive sleepiness), or irritability. If your child has listeriosis, the doctor can rule out any other illnesses and start treatment.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) The USDA works to enhance the quality of life for people by supporting the production of agriculture.|
|Food Poisoning The germs that get into food and cause food poisoning are tiny, but can have a powerful effect on the body. Find out what to do if you get food poisoning - and how to prevent it.|
|E. Coli Undercooked burgers and unwashed produce are among the foods that can harbor E. coli bacteria and lead to infection marked by severe diarrhea. Here's how to protect your family.|
|Fever and Taking Your Child's Temperature Although it can be frightening when your child's temperature rises, fever itself causes no harm and can actually be a good thing - it's often the body's way of fighting infections.|
|Food Safety for Your Family Why is food safety important? And how can you be sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe?|
|What Are Germs? Germs are the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease. With a little prevention, you can keep harmful germs out of your family's way.|
|Food Poisoning Did you ever eat something that made you feel ooky? It might have been food poisoning.|
|Produce Precautions Kids need daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Here's how to make sure the produce you buy and prepare is safe.|
|Staying Healthy During Pregnancy During your pregnancy, you'll probably get advice from everyone. But staying healthy depends on you - read about the many ways to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.|
|E. Coli E. coli is a common type of bacteria that can make you pretty sick. Read more in this article for kids.|
|Why Are Pregnant Women Told to Avoid Feta Cheese? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Food Poisoning Sometimes, germs can get into food and cause food poisoning. Find out what to do if your child gets food poisoning - and how to prevent it.|
|Pregnancy Myths and Tales Even in these times, pregnancy continues to inspire its own set of myths and tales. Which are true and which aren't?|
|Salmonella Infections Salmonellosis is a foodborne illness caused by the bacteria salmonella. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache.|
|Food Safety Learn why food safety is important and how you can avoid the spread of bacteria when you are buying, preparing, and storing food.|
|E. Coli Undercooked burgers and unwashed produce are among the foods that can harbor E. coli bacteria and lead to infection and severe diarrhea. Here's how to protect yourself.|
|Why Is Hand Washing So Important? Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.