Veteran's Health Library Menu

Health Encyclopedia


Listeriosis is a food-borne illness caused by bacteria called Listeria. Infected animals can spread these bacteria in their milk and cheese, and to the soil. This can infect animals, vegetables, and other foods that contact soil and animal manure.

How is listeriosis spread?

Listeriosis is spread by eating food or drinking fluids contaminated with these bacteria. Anyone can get listeriosis, but the following people are at higher risk:

  • Adults ages 50 and older

  • Newborn babies are at risk for more serious illness if infected

  • Pregnant women are about 13 times more likely to get it than other healthy adults

Adults that have a weakened immune system caused by the following conditions are also at higher risk:

  • AIDS

  • Cancer

  • Diabetes

  • Kidney disease

  • Medicines for organ transplants and other serious medical conditions

What are signs of listeriosis?

You may have no signs. Or you may have flu-like signs such as:

  • Chills

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever

  • Muscle aches

  • Upset stomach

If the illness gets worse, you can have:

  • Confusion

  • Convulsions

  • Headaches

  • Loss of balance

  • Stiff neck

How do you know if you have listeriosis?

The only way to know if you have listeriosis is by a medical exam. Your healthcare provider can examine and test for it. Lab samples may be taken from amniotic fluid, blood, feces, and urine.

How is listeriosis treated?

Listeriosis can be treated and cured with antibiotics. Always finish your antibiotic treatment.

What can happen to pregnant women if they are not treated for listeriosis?

Listeriosis can be very serious for the pregnant woman and her child. Listeria bacteria can pass from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. Listeriosis can cause:

  • Birth of an infected baby

  • Brain damage or other problems in the baby

  • Death of both the mother and the baby

  • Early birth

  • Miscarriage

Pregnant women should avoid eating soft cheeses, deli meats, and cold salads from salad bars.

How can you avoid listeriosis?

The following can help reduce your risk of listeriosis and other foodborne illness for you and your family:

  • Learn how to handle food safely.

  • Avoid non-pasteurized soft cheeses.

  • Cook food thoroughly.

For more information about listeriosis

Listeria (Listeriosis)

Listeriosis (Listeria) and Pregnancy

Food Don’ts: Print-and-Go Guide


Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 12/1/2016
Help improve the VHL. Share your opinions! Click here for brief survey

VHL Web Tour Video - Opens in a pop up window

Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
Disclaimer - Opens 'Disclaimer' in Dialog Window | Help | About Veterans Health Library