Yersiniosis is a relatively uncommon infection contracted through the consumption of undercooked meat products (especially pork), unpasteurized milk, or contaminated water.
Usually, someone with an infection caused by Yersinia bacteria recovers within a few days without medical treatment (in some cases, doctors prescribe antibiotics).
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. The infection seems to be more common in cooler climates.
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 contain the bacteria.
An infant can be infected if a parent or caretaker handles contaminated food without cleaning up adequately before handling the baby's toys, bottles, or pacifiers.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of yersiniosis appear 4–7 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. Some people also have a sore throat along with other symptoms.
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 called erythema nodosum, or joint pain that appears a month after the initial symptoms. The rash usually appears on the legs and trunk. The joint pain is usually in the larger joints and is thought to be due to an immune system response. These symptoms usually go away with time but can last several months.
The diagnosis of Yersinia can be confirmed with a stool culture. If the Yersinia infection leads to an infection of the blood, known as bacteremia, it can be confirmed with a blood culture.
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 bacteremia. 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 or 2 days and encouraging your child to drink more fluids (which may include drinks with electrolytes to replace body fluids quickly).
If your child has frequent bouts of diarrhea, watch for signs of dehydration, including:
- severe thirst
- dry mouth or tongue
- sunken eyes
- dry skin
- not peeing as often as usual
- in infants, a dry diaper for several hours
- no tears when crying
- looking lethargic
To reduce the risk of yersiniosis, take these precautions:
- Don't serve or eat raw or undercooked meat.
- Drink and serve only pasteurized milk and 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
- is vomiting
- has abdominal pain
- has a fever
With some rest, kids with yersiniosis usually make a full recovery quickly.