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Listeriosis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

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Listeriosis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

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Listeriosis is a bacterial infection, that can result in severe complications like meningitis, sepsis, and even death. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At August 20, 2019
Reviewed AtJanuary 2, 2024

What Is Listeriosis?

It is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogens which is usually seen in people after consumption of contaminated food. Commonly, it is known as food poisoning and can happen to anyone. Mostly it is self-limiting.

Listeria is a bacteria that is capable of living in soil, water, dust, animal excreta, and any other substance. It can usually grow in cold temperatures, and it does not cause any change in the appearance, smell, or taste of contaminated food.

How Is Listeriosis Caused?

As mentioned earlier, it is caused by bacteria Listeria monocytogens. Most people get this infection from eating non-processed or incompletely processed food or from dairy products that are made using milk that is not pasteurized.

Transmission from human to human occurs from mother to fetus or newborn through the placenta or during delivery. This infection usually occurs during the third trimester in pregnant Women.

What Are the Symptoms of Listeriosis?

The most common and typical signs include:

1. Diarrhea or loose motions.

2. Nausea.

3. Pain in the muscles.

4. Fever.

5. During pregnancy, the symptoms can be mild flu-like but it carries a risk of miscarriage, premature delivery or stillbirth or there are also chances of getting some life-threatening infections of the neonates after birth like pneumonia, sepsis, etc.

These symptoms can appear after a few days of eating the contaminated food or they can take a few months to show the symptoms.

This condition becomes serious if it spreads to the nervous system which is fatal for almost 20 % of people suffering from it. It usually affects the very young, very elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems. The signs of this condition include:

  • Headache.
  • Pain in the muscles.
  • Fever.
  • Pain in the back with or without diarrhea.

How Is Listeriosis Diagnosed?

A blood test is usually performed for the diagnosis and is the most effective way too. Sometimes, urine or spinal fluid samples may be used too. The other sites that can be used are joint, amniotic fluid, placenta, fetal tissue, pericardial fluid, and pleural.

Gram Staining of Listeria:

The gram staining of this microorganism from the specimen obtained shows small, non-spore-forming short rods (bacillus) that are gram-positive that stain blue. It is very helpful in diagnosing this microorganism.

Is It Possible to Treat Listeriosis?

The treatment involves antibiotics via intravenous along with supportive care. The antibiotics used are Ampicillin. Some may be allergic to this drug, and hence, it is important to consult your physician before taking it. If you are allergic to it, your doctor will prescribe an alternative medicine.

Supportive Care:

  1. Since there can be dehydration happening with this infection, it is advisable to have intravenous fluids to prevent the same. It also helps to maintain blood pressure. So, stay hydrated.
  2. For nauseousness or vomiting, medicines can be administered intravenously.
  3. It is mandatory to give intravenous medications to maintain or increase blood pressure in patients with low blood pressure.
  4. In case of severe infection, hospitalization along with mechanical ventilation may be required.

How to Prevent Listeriosis?

The following measures can be taken to prevent this infection:

  • Always rinse all vegetables and fruits before consumption under running tap water. Even if the vegetable or fruit is peeled when you get it, it is advisable to always wash it before taking it.
  • Keep uncooked food like meat and poultry separately. Do not mix it with vegetables, fruits, and any ready-to-eat or instant food.
  • Always wash your hands before preparing or eating food. Also, wash beakers, knives, cutting boards and anything and everything that you are going to use to handle or prepare the food.
  • Keep your refrigerators clean.
  • Use and finish all the instant food and pre-cooked food as soon as possible.
  • Do not eat any raw or uncooked food nor drink raw milk or any food that contains unpasteurized milk in them.
  • Those who are at high risk, like pregnant women, are advised not to eat outside instant foods like hot dogs, etc., or any refrigerated meat, soft cheese, refrigerated seafood, etc.

Does Listeriosis Have a Good Prognosis?

Most of the individuals affected with this infection are symptomless and have the best prognosis. Those at high risk have varied prognoses depending on various factors like the health and immune status of the individual, initiation of antibiotics and the route, etc. Most of them have a good prognosis. But, in some cases, it can turn fatal too. Hence, it is advisable to consult your physician as soon as possible.

Listeriosis is a very common condition that is mostly self-limiting and asymptomatic, but there are chances for it to turn fatal also. Hence, it is advisable to have detailed knowledge about it so that you can seek medical attention as soon as possible, especially in high-risk individuals. You can always contact physicians anywhere, anytime, with the help of online medical platforms and thus, get your query solved instantly.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Long does listeriosis last?

The incubation period that is the time taken for bacteria to cause symptoms is 11 to 70 days. This infection goes away on its own if the disease is mild. Severe cases need treatment with antibiotics.


How Do you get listeriosis?

You can get listeriosis by eating food contaminated with the bacteria listeria. It can also get transmitted to newborns if mothers get infected during pregnancy. Immunocompromised and pregnant people are at risk of developing this infection.


How Do you know if you have Listeria?

During the early stages, listeria infection can cause flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle aches. In the later stages, when the infection spreads to the brain, you might experience neck stiffness, confusion, and loss of balance. A blood test can be done to detect the bacteria.


What Happens if you get listeriosis?

On consuming food infected with Listeria, the bacteria reaches the liver through your intestines. If your immune system is strong, bacteria are destroyed, and the infection goes away on its own. But in pregnant and people with a weakened immune system, the infection can spread to the blood and brain.


How dangerous is Listeria?

Listeria infection can be dangerous for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals. If it infects pregnant women, it can result in miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth. In people with a weak immune system, it can cause serious brain infection.


How Does Listeria develop?

Listeria is present in the soil, water, and manure. When we consume fruits, vegetables, and other food items infected with Listeria, the bacteria enter the body and causes infection.


Can Listeria go away on its own?

In healthy individuals with a normal immune system, this infection can go away on its own.


How Do you treat Listeria at home?

You can treat Listeria at home by staying hydrated, taking painkillers, avoid alcohol and fatty, spicy food.


Can you recover from Listeria?

Most people recover from this infection on there own. In rare cases, it can cause brain abscess, which is a severe condition that requires treatment with antibiotics for around six weeks.
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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


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