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Yersiniosis

Yersiniosis is a relatively uncommon infection contracted through the consumption of undercooked meat products, unpasteurized milk, or water contaminated by the bacteria.

Usually, someone with an infection caused by Yersinia bacteria recovers within a few days without medical treatment (in some cases, doctors prescribe antibiotics).

About Yersiniosis

Of the three main types of yersiniosis that affect people, Yersinia enterocolitica (bacteria that thrive in cooler temperatures) are responsible for most infections in the United States. Still, there is only 1 confirmed case per 100,000 people each year.

Body Basics: Digestive System

The bacteria can infect the digestive tracts of humans, cats, dogs, pigs, cattle, and goats. People can contract it by eating or handling contaminated foods such as raw or undercooked meat, or by drinking untreated water or unpasteurized milk that has been contaminated.

An infant can be infected if a parent or caretaker handles contaminated food without cleaning up adequately before handling the infant's toys, bottles, or pacifiers.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of yersiniosis appear 4 to 7 days after exposure and can last up to 3 weeks. They include fever, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. Sometimes, older kids also get pain in the lower right side of the abdomen, which can mimic appendicitis.

If your child has these symptoms, call your doctor. For infants, it's particularly important to call the doctor as soon as symptoms appear to prevent the infection from leading to other health problems.

In rare cases, the infection can cause a skin rash or joint pain that appears a month after the initial symptoms. But these symptoms go away without treatment.

Treatment

Diarrhea caused by yersiniosis generally goes away on its own, though in some cases antibiotics are prescribed. In infants, however — particularly those who are 3 months old or younger — it can develop into a more serious condition called bacteremia, an infection of the blood. Infants who contract yersiniosis are usually treated in a hospital.

Depending on the severity of the diarrhea, your doctor may suggest modifying your child's diet for 1 to 2 days and encouraging your child to drink more fluids (which may include drinks with electrolytes to replace body fluids quickly).

If your child is frequent bouts of diarrhea, watch for signs of dehydration, including:

  • severe thirst
  • dry mouth or tongue
  • sunken eyes
  • dry skin
  • infrequent urination
  • in infants, a dry diaper for several hours

Prevention

To reduce the risk of yersiniosis, take these precautions:

  • Don't serve eat raw or undercoooked meat.
  • Drink and serve only pasteurized milk or milk products.
  • Wash hands with soap and water particularly before eating and preparing food; before touching infants or their toys, bottles, or pacifiers; and after contact with animals or handling raw meat.
  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods.
  • Clean all cutting boards, countertops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw meat.
  • Always cook meat thoroughly before you eat it, especially pork products.
  • Dispose of animal feces and sanitize anything they have touched.
  • Avoid drinking directly from natural water sources such as ponds and mountain streams, particularly if the water is near farmland where cattle, pigs, or goats are raised.
  • As you care for a family member who has diarrhea, remember to wash your hands thoroughly before touching other people and before handling food.
  • If your pet dog or cat has diarrhea, wash your hands frequently as you care for it, and check with your veterinarian about treatment and/or contagiousness.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if your child:

  • has diarrhea streaked with blood
  • has been vomiting
  • shows any signs of dehydration

With some rest, kids with yersiniosis usually make a full recovery quickly.

Reviewed by: Joel Klein, MD
Date reviewed: April 2009

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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