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Listeriosis Food Poisoning



  • Listeriosis is an infection caused by bacteria that usually enter the body through food.
  • Mild infections often get better without treatment. For a serious infection, your child may need to take antibiotic medicine.
  • Dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting can be dangerous, especially for children. Your child needs to drink enough liquid to replace the fluids and minerals lost.


What is listeriosis?

Listeriosis is an infection caused by bacteria called Listeria. Because the bacteria usually enter the body through food, the infection is also called food poisoning.

Often the illness is brief and does not need any treatment. However, the infection sometimes causes severe illness such as a brain or a blood infection.

A newborn may be born with the infection if the mother was infected. Newborns can get much sicker than their mothers. The infection is also more likely to affect children who have weakened immune systems. The immune system is the body's defense against infections.

What is the cause?

The bacteria can live in the animal or human intestine. Bowel movements can spread the bacteria to soil or water. Vegetables or fruit can be contaminated by contact with this soil or water. Contaminated food usually looks and smells normal.

Your child may get infected if:

  • Your child eats or drinks dairy products that have not been pasteurized (heated to kill certain bacteria)
  • Your child eats contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked meat
  • Your child eats food that has been handled by someone who is infected
  • Your child swallows water from a well, lake, stream, or city water that has not been treated to kill germs
  • Your child has contact with an infected animal

In many cases, the source of infection is not known.

What are the symptoms?

Your child’s symptoms may begin a few days after your child has eaten contaminated food, or your child may not have symptoms until weeks later.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Watery diarrhea

If the infection spreads to the nervous system, it can cause meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of meningitis may include:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Meningitis can be fatal.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Fluid from your child’s blood, spine, or joints, may be tested for bacteria.

How is it treated?

Mild infections often get better without treatment. For a serious infection, your child may need to take antibiotic medicine for several weeks to make sure all of the bacteria are gone.

If a baby gets infected at birth or soon afterward, the baby will usually need antibiotic medicine.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Make sure that your child takes all medicine according to the provider's instructions. If your child stops taking the medicine too soon, the infection may come back. If your child has side effects from the medicine, talk to your provider.

Here are some things you can do to help your child feel better:

  • Rest your child’s stomach and bowel but make sure that your child keeps getting liquids. You can try giving your child water, ice chips, frozen ice pops, or a half-strength lemon-lime soft drinks (half water, half soft drink). Avoid liquids that are acidic such as orange juice, or caffeinated such as coffee.
  • If your child has severe diarrhea, the body can lose too much fluid and your child can get dehydrated. Dehydration can be dangerous, especially for children. Your child may also be losing minerals that the body needs to keep working normally. Your healthcare provider may recommend an oral rehydration solution (ORS), which is a drink that replaces fluids and minerals. You can buy these products at drug and grocery stores.
  • Your child may want to eat soft, plain foods. Good choices are soda crackers, toast, plain pasta, rice, cooked cereal, applesauce, and bananas. It’s best for your child to eat slowly and avoid foods that are hard to digest or may irritate the stomach including foods with acid such as tomatoes or oranges, spicy or fatty food, meats, and raw vegetables. Your child may be able to go back to a normal meal plan in a few days.
  • Don’t give your child aspirin, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without checking first with your healthcare provider. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will get your child’s test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities your child should avoid, and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent listeriosis?

These steps can help prevent food poisoning:

  • Wash your hands and clean any dishes or utensils before you prepare, cook, serve, or eat food. Keep kitchen counters and other food preparation surfaces clean. Replace used dishcloths and kitchen towels with clean ones often.
  • Cover any sore or cut on your hands before preparing food. Use rubber gloves or cover the sore with a clean bandage.
  • Make sure the milk, cheese, and juice products your child eats and drinks have been pasteurized.
  • Rinse fresh vegetables and fruits before you prepare or cook them or before your child eats them.
  • Thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator or a microwave. Do not let meat stand at room temperature.
  • Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, hot dogs, and leftovers. Pork should be heated to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C). For whole chickens and turkeys, a temperature of 180°F (82°C) is recommended for thigh meat and 170°F (77°C) for breast meat.
  • Keep juices from raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods.
  • If you take care of young children, wash your hands often and dispose of diapers carefully so that bacteria can't spread to other surfaces or people.
  • Refrigerate any food your child will not be eating right away.
  • Make sure that your child washes hands before eating, after going to the bathroom, or after touching animals.
  • When your child travels to places where contamination is more likely, your child should eat only hot, freshly cooked food. Your child should not eat raw vegetables or unpeeled fruit. Your child should drink only bottled water and liquids and avoid tap water and ice, or drink water that has been boiled.
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2022-01-03
Last reviewed: 2018-11-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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