Listeriosis - causes, symptoms and therapy

Listeriosis - causes, symptoms and therapy

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With a weak immune system, a bacterium from the genus Listeria can trigger listeriosis. The cause is mostly contaminated food and the infectious disease can be transmitted from animals to humans. It is one of the notifiable diseases.

Listeria bacteria in animal products

Listeria can be found in many areas of agriculture. They occur in animal feed and faeces and can reach the end products through food production. Especially in

  • raw meat,
  • Raw milk,
  • Soft cheese,
  • Cheese rind and
  • Smoked fish,
  • but also in salads and vegetables, if they have been fertilized with animal husbandry,

may contain listeria.

Listeria occur particularly in soil and waste water or in contaminated water, as well as in feed and, as already mentioned, in food. So theoretically you can get infected with every fruit and vegetable, except for carrots, tomatoes and apples, because the stick bacteria cannot stick to them.

They can also multiply in the refrigerator at low temperatures. Since they do not cause the food to spoil, the infection with the listeriosis-causing bacterium Listeria monozytogenes cannot be detected.

Risk groups

In particular, people whose immune systems are weakened are susceptible to listeriosis, which include

  • older people,
  • Pregnant women
  • HIV patients,
  • Alcoholics and
  • Diabetic.

Especially pregnant women and people with a diagnosed immune deficiency should avoid raw foods.

In Germany, an average of 400 people develop listeriosis each year, including around 200 pregnant women. Sometimes in institutions such as kindergartens or old people's homes, foodstuffs infected with the rod bacteria that cause listeriosis lead to significant accumulations of listeriosis, but this is rather the exception.

Pregnant women as a special risk group

Because the immune system changes during pregnancy, pregnant women belong to the risk group of people who are at risk from listeriosis. That is why pregnant women are also advised not to consume raw food and cheese, let alone raw meat or fish products. Since the rod bacteria of listeriosis can be transferred to the unborn child via the placenta, medical treatment is urgently recommended if listeriosis is suspected. In the worst case, this can lead to miscarriage or even stillbirth. Listeriosis can also lead to serious illness or death in a newborn.

No clear symptoms

The pathogens used in diagnostics are usually found in the liver, tonsils or in the digestive tract. Insofar as you do not belong to one of the risk groups, the pathogen is usually eliminated with bowel movements. The pathogen can then also exist in the gastrointestinal tract and cause no obvious symptoms. Symptoms similar to the flu can occur and skin contact with contaminated food can cause reactions in the form of pustules on the skin. Diarrhea and vomiting can also add to the symptoms. Recent studies have shown that fever and allergic reactions can also occur in people with an intact immune system after ingestion of listeriosis bacteria. These symptoms last for about two days. The bacteria are eliminated with the bowel movements over a period of several months. Therefore, in the case of listeriosis, hygiene in the sanitary area is of particular importance.

Listeriosis can lead to serious complications in people with a very weak immune system, such as inflammation of the brain or blood poisoning.


If a doctor diagnoses listeriosis with an examination of the spinal fluid, a smear from the nose, a stool or blood sample, a two-week course of antibiotics must be initiated. The relatively long period of time is necessary for all listeria in the body to be killed.

Prevention means eating properly

People who have weakened immune systems due to age, disease, or pregnancy should avoid foods that may be contaminated with listeria. Salads should be washed thoroughly and food, if possible, heated to at least 45 ° Celsius, since listeria can only survive at temperatures between -4 ° and + 45 ° Celsius. With suitable foods, freezing can help to kill listeria.

In order to avoid infection, special attention should be paid to hygine, especially during the infection period. (fp, ok)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Robert Koch Institute: RKI Guide Listeriosis (accessed: July 16, 2019), rki.de
  • Goulet, Véronique / King, Lisa A. / Vaillant, Véronique / u.a .: What is the incubation period for listeriosis? BMC Infectious Diseases, 2013, bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com
  • Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety: Listeria in food (available on July 16, 2019), lgl.bayern.de
  • Amboss GmbH: Listeriosis (accessed: July 16, 2019), amboss.com
  • Herold, Gerd: Internal Medicine 2019, self-published, 2018
  • Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR): Listeria (accessed: 16.07.2019), bfr.bund.de
  • European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): Listeria (accessed: 16.07.2019), efsa.europa.eu
  • Merck & Co., Inc .: Listeriosis (accessed: July 16, 2019), msdmanuals.com
  • World Health Organization (WHO): Fact sheets Listeriosis (access: July 16, 2019), who.int
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Listeria (Listeriosis) (access: July 16, 2019), cdc.gov

ICD codes for this disease: A32ICD codes are internationally valid encryption for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: Listeria monocytogenes pathogenesis (August 2022).