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Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of Listeria monocytogenes infection

Michael S Gelfand, MD
Section Editors
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Sheldon L Kaplan, MD
Deputy Editor
Anna R Thorner, MD


Listeria monocytogenes is an important bacterial pathogen in neonates, immunosuppressed patients, older adults, pregnant women, and, occasionally, previously healthy individuals. The importance of underlying diseases was illustrated in a series of 165 adults with culture-proven Listeria infection: 69 percent of cases in nonpregnant adults occurred in patients with cancer, AIDS, organ transplant recipients, or corticosteroid therapy [1].

The clinical manifestations and diagnosis of listerial infection will be reviewed here. The treatment, prognosis, and prevention of listerial infection and the epidemiology and pathogenesis of listerial infection are discussed separately. (See "Treatment, prognosis, and prevention of Listeria monocytogenes infection" and "Epidemiology and pathogenesis of Listeria monocytogenes infection".)


The incubation period for Listeria gastroenteritis is substantially shorter than the incubation period for invasive disease [2-4]. For gastroenteritis, the mean incubation period is 24 hours (range 6 hours to 10 days) [2], whereas, for invasive listeriosis, the median incubation period is 11 days with 90 percent of cases occurring within 28 days [5].


Listeria monocytogenes is thought of as a pathogen that causes invasive disease including meningitis, meningoencephalitis, or bacteremia in immunosuppressed patients, individuals at the extremes of age including neonates and older adults, and pregnant women. However, Listeria is also a cause of self-limited febrile gastroenteritis in normal hosts who ingest high numbers of organisms [2]. (See "Epidemiology and pathogenesis of Listeria monocytogenes infection", section on 'Clinical epidemiology'.)

Listeria infection is more common in the summer.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 16, 2016.
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