Questions and Answers

Who has a higher risk of getting Listeria food poisoning?

What are Listeria?

Listeria are bacteria that can contaminate many foods. People who eat those foods can get infected with Listeria. The infection is called listeriosis.

Listeria are most likely to sicken people who are pregnant and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. Other people can be infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.

Can Listeria infection be serious?

Yes. CDC estimates that Listeria is the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States.

Listeria can also cause an intestinal illness that is usually mild. When Listeria bacteria spread beyond the intestines, we call the infection invasive. CDC only tracks Listeria illnesses that are invasive.

Invasive illness in pregnant people is usually mild. However, invasive illness during pregnancy usually leads to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. Infection during pregnancy results in fetal loss in about 20% of cases and newborn death in about 3% of cases.

Other people with invasive illness – most commonly adults 65 years and older and people with weakened immune systems – usually have infection of the bloodstream (sepsis) or brain (meningitis or encephalitis). Listeria can sometimes infect other parts of the body. Among invasive illnesses not associated with pregnancy, most people need to be hospitalized (about 87% of cases) and about 1 in 6 people die.

What are the symptoms of infection?

Symptoms vary depending on the person infected and the part of the body affected.

CDC’s Listeria symptoms page provides information on the symptoms and severity of both invasive illness and intestinal illness.

How is infection diagnosed and treated?

Infection is usually diagnosed when a laboratory test detects Listeria in body tissue or fluid, such as blood, spinal fluid, or the placenta.

Treatment depends on the kind and severity of a person’s illness. Most Listeria infections are treated with antibiotics. People with diarrhea should drink plenty of fluids.

What should I do if I ate a food that may have been contaminated with Listeria?

Contact a healthcare provider if both of the following things apply to you:

Let the healthcare provider know if you ate possibly contaminated food. This is especially important if you are pregnant, aged 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system.

If you ate food possibly contaminated with Listeria and do not feel sick, most experts believe you do not need tests or treatment. Talk with a healthcare provider if you have questions about what to do.

Are outbreaks common?

A few outbreaks of Listeria infections are identified most years. Even though most cases of listeriosis are not part of recognized outbreaks, outbreak investigations help show which foods are sources of listeriosis.

What are public health agencies doing to prevent or control Listeria in the U.S. food supply?

Federal, state, and local governments are:

Find out how CDC and state and federal partners are using real-time whole genome sequencing to solve Listeria outbreaks and make food safer >

How can I prevent infection?

People who are more likely to get a Listeria infection and those who prepare food for them should

Everyone can: