Yersiniosis

What is yersiniosis?

Yersiniosis is a bacterial disease that usually affects the intestinal tract. It is caused by a bacterium of the genus Yersinia. In the United States, most human yersiniosis is caused by the species Yersinia enterocolitica. Yersiniosis is more frequently found in cooler climates, and occurs more often in winter than summer.

Who gets yersiniosis?

Anyone can get yersiniosis, but most cases occur in children and young adults.

How do people get yersiniosis?

Yersinia bacteria are spread by eating or drinking food or water that is contaminated with feces from an infected human or animal. Animals, especially pigs, are the main source of Yersinia. Wastes from infected animals may contaminate water, milk and foods, and become a source of infection for people and other animals. Raw pork and pork products, especially pork intestines (chitterlings), are often contaminated. The bacteria have also been found in cold cuts, raw or improperly processed milk, ice cream, tofu, shellfish, lakes and streams, and both wild and domestic animals.

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What are the symptoms of yersiniosis?

Infection with Yersinia can cause a variety of symptoms depending on the age of the person infected. Common symptoms in children are fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea, which is often bloody. In older children and adults, right-side abdominal pain and fever can be the predominant symptoms and can be confused with appendicitis. In a small number of cases, complications such as skin rash, joint pains or spread of bacteria to the blood stream can occur.

How soon after infection do symptoms appear?

Symptoms usually appear within three to seven days after exposure.

How is yersiniosis diagnosed?

Yersiniosis is usually diagnosed by a lab test called a stool culture. Your health care provider will provide the special container you need to collect a stool specimen. Many laboratories do not routinely test for Yersinia. Therefore, it is important to notify laboratory personnel when infection with this bacterium is suspected so special tests can be run. It usually takes several days before the test results are ready.

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How is yersiniosis treated?

Most cases of yersiniosis resolve on their own without treatment, usually after one to three weeks. In more severe or complicated infections, antibiotics may be useful. Yersinia is generally resistant to penicillin.

Are there any long-term consequences of yersiniosis?

Most infections are uncomplicated and resolve completely. Occasionally, some people develop joint pain, most commonly in the knees, ankles or wrists. These joint pains usually develop about one month after the first episode of diarrhea, and will go away after one to six months. In approximately 10 percent of adults, a skin rash, called "erythema nodosum," may appear on the legs and trunk; this is more common in women, and generally goes away by itself within a month.

How can yersiniosis be prevented?

For further information

Call the Vermont Department of Health, Epidemiology Field Unit, 800-640-4374 or 863-7240.

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