What is Yersiniosis?

J.M. Willhite

Yersiniosis is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia enterocolitica, also known as Y. enterocolitica. Most cases of yersiniosis originate from consuming contaminated food, especially pork that has been prepared incorrectly or eaten raw. Symptoms of infection often develop within days of exposure to the bacterium and the symptoms manifested are dependent on the age of the individual. Generally, these infections subside with time and require no medical treatment. Complications that may arise from infection, such as joint pain or skin rash, will likewise subside within a month of initial exposure.

Yersiniosis bacteria is often found in pigs.
Yersiniosis bacteria is often found in pigs.

An infectious disease, yersiniosis is a member of the family of rod-shaped bacteria of the genus Yersinia. Of the various forms of Yersinia bacterium, only a few cause human illness. The most common form of Y. enterocolitica that causes human illness is frequently found in pigs. Other animals which carry the infectious bacterium include cattle, horses, and domestic animals, such as dogs and cats.

Many cases of yersiniosis arise from the consumption of raw pork meat.
Many cases of yersiniosis arise from the consumption of raw pork meat.

Individuals who have been exposed to the Y. enterocolitica bacterium may become symptomatic within a week of initial exposure and remain ill for up to a month. Symptom manifestation is dependent on the age of the individual, as children often experience more pronounced reactions to the infection. Children with yersiniosis often experience symptoms that include abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, and fever. Adolescents and adults will generally experience symptoms that include a fever and abdominal pain that is localized to the right side. Individuals who are highly sensitive to infection may exhibit symptoms that include joint pain and skin rash.

A relatively rare condition, children are more susceptible to yersiniosis than adolescents or adults. The infection is generally diagnosed by stool sample analysis. The bacterium may also be found in the exposed individual’s blood, urine, and bile. Though the most common method of exposure is through the consumption of contaminated food, yersiniosis may be transmitted in a variety of ways.

Handling contaminated, raw food without washing one’s hands allows for easy transmission of the bacterium to other objects and people. Individuals may also become exposed to the bacterium by drinking unclean water or milk that has not been pasteurized. Poor hygiene, such as not washing one’s hands after using the bathroom, is another potential form of direct person-to-person transmission for infection. Direct contact with the bodily fluid or waste of an infected animal, such as stool, urine, or saliva, may also result in exposure to Y. enterocolitica.

In most cases, individuals with yersiniosis require no medical treatment. Those who experience complications or severe symptoms associated with infection should seek medical attention to prevent a further worsening of symptoms. The administration of an antibiotic medication may be necessary to alleviate symptoms and treat the remaining infection. Individuals who experience a yersiniosis-related skin rash, known as erythema nodosum, may require a topical medication to alleviate inflammation and irritation.

There are several steps which can be taken to prevent the risk of acquiring Y. enterocolitica infection. Individuals should only consume pasteurized milk products, clean drinking water, and fully cooked pork products. When handling raw meat, individuals should always wash their hands and use separate cutting boards for meats to prevent the cross-contamination of other foods. Individuals should always exercise caution and use a sanitary approach when disposing of animal feces and waste, including washing his or her hands afterwards.

Stool samples that are collected at home are usually placed into plastic containers.
Stool samples that are collected at home are usually placed into plastic containers.

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