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Listeria Infection


Disease: Listeria Infection Listeria Infection
Category: Infectious diseases
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Disease Definition:

Listeria infection is a food-borne illness that causes mild symptoms, which could be easily mistaken for other illnesses, such as flu. Because of this, people could have this illness without even knowing it.

A listeria infection could be quite devastating for pregnant women and people with weak immune systems. However, most healthy people exposed to listeria don't become ill.

To help reduce the effects of a listeria infection, it should be promptly treated with antibiotics. However, starting with simple food safety precautions, prevention is quite important.

Most healthy people exposed to listeria don't become ill, however, isteria infection can be devastating for pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Some of the signs and symptoms of a listeria infection may be:


  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea

Before the first signs and symptoms of infection begin, it may take as long as two months, however, its symptoms may begin a few days after eating contaminated food.

A person may experience some of these signs and symptoms in case listeria infections spreads to their nevous system:


  • Stiff neck
  • Convulsions
  • Headache
  • Loss of balance
  • Confusion or changes in alertness

A listeria infection causes only mild signs and symptoms in the mother during pregnancy, but the consequences could be devastating for the baby. Within the first few days after birth, the baby could experience a life-threatening infection, or it could die unexpectedly before birth.

The signs and symptoms in a newborn baby could also be mild, but they may include:


  • Fever
  • Little interest in feeding
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability

People should pay close attention to any possible signs or symptoms of illness if they’ve eaten food that's been recalled because of a listeria outbreak. They should contact a doctor in case they experience fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea. Also, in case a person has eaten a potentially contaminated product, such as foods made with unpasteurized milk or poorly heated hot dogs or deli meats, they should also contact a doctor.

People should seek emergency care in case they experience a high fever, severe headache, confusion, sensitivity to light or a stiff neck. These are signs and symptoms that could indicate a life-threatening complication of a listeria infection, known as meningitis.


Eating food that is contaminated with the bacteria listeria monocytogenes causes listeria infections. This bacteria could be found in:


  • Some wild and domestic animals
  • Soil
  • Water

Usually, humans are exposed to the virus by consuming:


  • Infected animal meat
  • Unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk.
  • Raw vegetables that have been contaminated from the soil or from contaminated manure used as fertilizer.
  • Certain processed foods, such as soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli meats that have been contaminated after processing

Via the placenta, unborn babies could contract a listeria infection from their mother. Breast-feeding isn't thought to cause infection in babies.

The people that are more likely to develop infection with a listeria infection include:

People with weakened immune systems:
This includes people who take medications to block rejection of a transplanted organ, older adults and anyone who has cancer, kidney disease, AIDS, diabetes or other conditions that affect the immune system.

Pregnant women and their babies:
Pregnant women are much more susceptible to listeria infection than others. Even though the infection could cause only a mild illness in the mother, however, consequences for the baby may include a potentially fatal infection after birth, stillbirth, miscarriage or premature birth.



In most cases, listeria infections are so mild and go unnoticed. However, in some cases, life-threatening complications could be caused by the listeria infection, such as:

Meningitis, which is the inflammation of the membranes and fluid that surround the brain.
Septicemia, which is a generalized blood infection.

For an unborn baby, complications of a listeria infection could be most severe. Early in pregnancy, a listeria infection could lead to miscarriage. Even if the mother becomes only slightly ill, an infection later in pregnancy could cause stillbirth, premature birth or a potentially fatal infection in the baby after birth.
Long-term neurological damage and delayed development could be caused in infants who survive a listeria infection.
Adults over the age of 60 could also become seriously affected by this infection. In this case, death rates are as high as 10 to 20%


The sooner treatment begins for a listeria infection, the better. Treatment will involve intravenous antibiotics in the hospital. Prompt antibiotic treatment during pregnancy could help keep the infection from affecting the baby. A combination of antibiotics could be given to newborns that have a listeria infection.


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