Recognizing Listeria: 3 Common Symptoms

May 7th 2016

While most healthy people can get through a bout of listeriosis with no problems, the infection can be fatal for some. If you learn that you've eaten food that has potentially been contaminated with listeria, pay attention to your physical symptoms and see a doctor if you experience any flu-like symptoms. If you experience the early signs of meningitis or other severe responses to listeria infection, including a stiff neck, mental confusion or severe headaches, seek emergency medical treatment.

Listeriosis in Pregnant Women

Pregnant women typically experience very mild symptoms if infected by listeria, often only thinking they have a mild flu-like illness. They may have a mild fever and experience muscle aches and some fatigue. However, a listeria infection can be extremely dangerous to the woman's unborn child. Listeriosis in pregnant women can result in miscarriage, premature delivery or stillbirth.

In addition, the child may develop his own life-threatening listeria infection shortly after birth. Symptoms of listeriosis in a newborn include fever, vomiting and irritability. Newborns with listeriosis also often show little interest in feeding and may develop meningitis.

Listeriosis in People with Weak Immune Systems

While anyone can contract listeriosis, those most susceptible to it include people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, newborns, diabetics and people with liver or kidney disease. Initial symptoms of listeriosis for these people include fever and muscle aches, as well as diarrhea and nausea. As the disease progresses, it can lead to symptoms such as a stiff neck, mental confusion, headaches, balance problems and convulsions. These symptoms indicate that the bacteria have spread to the nervous system. Almost all diagnosed listeriosis infections are invasive, meaning that they spread beyond the digestive tract, where they begin.

As listeriosis progresses, it can turn into meningitis or meningoencephalitis. When this occurs, symptoms include nausea, vomiting, severe headaches and fever.

Treatment of Listeriosis

Listeriosis is typically treated with high doses of antibiotics. Ampicillin and related drugs are particularly effective against listeriosis. However, listeriosis is sometimes fatal even when treatment is received. Pregnant women who contract the bacteria can protect their unborn children through antibiotic treatment. People who don't have compromised immune systems or who aren't pregnant may not need any treatment.


Listeria infections, also referred to as listeriosis, are caused by Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which most often infect the bloodstream, the brain or the spinal column. Listeriosis is a food-borne illness and can be very dangerous for those who have compromised immune systems or for pregnant women. The listeria bacteria can be contracted through contaminated vegetables, meat from infected animals, or unpasteurized dairy products.

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