What Is Listeria Disease? Know Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

 Listeria disease is a food borne bacterial infection. Here are its symptoms, causes and treatment from an expert. Read on. 

Navya Kharbanda
Written by: Navya KharbandaPublished at: May 10, 2022Updated at: May 10, 2022
What Is Listeria Disease? Know Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Listeriosis is a food-borne bacterial infection caused by Listeria bacteria. This illness that can be very serious for pregnant women, people older than 65 and people with weakened immune systems. Normally caused by eating contaminated food, around 20-30 percent of listeriosis cases are fatal. Prompt antibiotic treatment can help curb the effects of listeria infection. Listeria bacteria can survive refrigeration and even freezing. So people who are at higher risk of serious infections should avoid eating the types of food most likely to contain listeria bacteria. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Ksheetij Kothari, Consultant - Gastroententerologist and Hepatologist, Manipal Hospital, Kharadi, to know about the symptoms, causes and treatment of listeria disease. 

Listeria Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of listeriosis are variable; most people who are infected have few or no symptoms. Symptoms might begin a few days after you've eaten contaminated food, but it can take 30 days or more before the first signs and symptoms of infection begin. When symptoms of Listeria infection are present, they mostly are: 

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Headache 

Listeria Disease causes 

Listeriosis is caused by Listeria, a type of bacteria that is commonly found in water, soil, and feces. Humans are infected when they consume foods that harbor the bacteria. The most common foods to cause listeriosis outbreaks are deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products. However, many other foods have also been found to spark outbreaks, including caramel apples, cantaloupe, and cabbages fertilized by sheep manure. The bacteria are not contagious from person to person in most instances. 

Listeria bacteria can be found in soil, water and animal feces. People can get infected by eating raw vegetables that have been contaminated from the soil or from contaminated manure used as fertilizer, contaminated meat, unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk, certain processed foods — such as soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli meats that have been contaminated after processing. Unborn babies can contract a listeria infection from the mother.

Listeria Disease treatment

Physicians base their preliminary diagnosis on the patient's clinical history and physical exam, especially after the patient gives a history of likely exposure to a contaminated food source during a Listeria outbreak. Without this information, the diagnosis is difficult to sort out from many other diseases. Most listeria infections are so mild they can go unnoticed. However, in some cases, a listeria infection can lead to life-threatening complications. 

Also read: Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Caramel Apples

For minor infections, medication might not be required. For more serious cases of listeriosis, antibiotics are the most common treatment choice. If septicemia or meningitis occur, the individual will be given intravenous antibiotics and require up to 6 weeks of care and treatment. And, home remedies may be a dangerous option without consulting a physician. Here's how you can prevent listeria infection: 

1. Hand hygeine 

Wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods. After cooking, use hot, soapy water to wash the utensils. 

2. Food hygeine 

Clean raw vegetables with a scrub brush or vegetable brush under plenty of running water. Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry. Avoid ready to eat foods and eat only completely naturally cooked foods. Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk. Contaminated foods is one of the most common causes of this infection.

The Listeria bacterium is able to enter and survive within immune cells such as macrophages. Most people with mild symptoms require no treatment. More-serious infections can be treated with antibiotics. If you have eaten food that has been recalled because of listeria contamination, see a doctor only if you have signs and symptoms of a listeria infection.