Listeriosis

Listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacteria listeria monocytogenes usually manifesting as meningitis, encephalitis and sepsis. The newborn, pregnant women, elderly, diabetics, patients with cirrhosis and immune-compromised individuals are at greatest risk for the infection. It is one of the leading causes of meningitis in the newborn, elderly and transplant patients.

Unpasteurized dairy products are a common source of this bacteria leading to human infections.

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide but higher incidences are probably in developing countries.

How is it transmitted?

It is commonly transmitted through the ingestion of unpasteurized dairy products like soft cheeses, processed meats or vegetables contaminated with infected animal excreta.

Is it contagious from person to person?

It is not commonly contagious from person to person; however pregnant woman can pass the bacteria to the fetus in utero.

What is the risk for travelers?

The risk is generally low for most travelers, is potentially higher for those eating unpasteurized dairy products.

How soon after exposure will I develop symptoms?

Usually symptoms develop 2-4 weeks after exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

In most adults symptoms usually begin with fever, chills, body aches, abdominal pain, and cramps and in severe cases shock. With meningitis one develops symptoms of headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting and can progress to delirium and coma.

Pregnant woman can pass the bacteria to the fetus leading to miscarriage.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

Diagnosis is made by culturing the bacteria from blood or body fluids.

Is there any treatment?

Ampicillin is the drug of choice, for those allergic to it bactrim or erythromycin are alternatives.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Individuals at higher risk for infection like pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals should avoid unpasteurized dairy products, soft cheeses like Mexican soft cheese, brie, camembert etc. They should also avoid deli meats and leftover foods should be cooked steaming hot.

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