Definition of Yersinia enterocolitica
Yersinia enterocolitica: A bacterium that causes an infectious disease called yersiniosis. Yersinia enterocolitica is a member of the Yersinia family of bacteria.
Common symptoms of yersiniosis in children (who most often contract the disease) are fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Symptoms typically develop 4 to 7 days after exposure and may last 1 to 3 weeks or longer. In older children and adults, right-sided abdominal pain and fever may be the predominant symptoms and may be confused with appendicitis. In a small proportion of cases, complications such as skin rash, joint pains, or spread of bacteria to the bloodstream can occur.
Yersiniosis is most often acquired by eating contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked pork products. The preparation of raw pork intestines (chitterlings) may be particularly risky. Infants can be infected if their caretakers handle raw chitterlings and then do not adequately clean their hands before handling the infant or the infant's toys, bottles, or pacifiers. Drinking contaminated unpasteurized milk or untreated water can also transmit the infection. Occasionally Y. enterocolitica infection occurs after contact with infected animals. On rare occasions, it can be transmitted as a result of the bacterium passing from the stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person. This may happen when basic hygiene and handwashing habits are inadequate. Rarely, the organism is transmitted through contaminated blood during a transfusion.
Yersiniosis is generally diagnosed by detecting the organism in the stool. The organism can also be recovered from other sites, including the throat, lymph nodes, joint fluid, urine, bile, and blood.
Uncomplicated cases of diarrhea due to Y. enterocolitica usually resolve on their own without antibiotic treatment. However, in more severe or complicated infections, antibiotics such as aminoglycosides, doxycycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, or fluoroquinolones may be useful.
Most infections with Y. enterocolitica are uncomplicated and resolve completely. Occasionally, some persons develop joint pain, most commonly in the knees, ankles or wrists. These joint pains usually develop about 1 month after the initial episode of diarrhea and generally resolve after 1 to 6 months. A skin rash, called "erythema nodosum," may also appear on the legs and trunk; this is more common in women. In most cases, erythema nodosum resolves spontaneously within a month.
To prevent the infection:
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked pork.
- Consume only pasteurized milk or milk products.
- Wash hands with soap and water before eating and preparing food, after contact with animals, and after handling raw meat.
- After handling raw chitterlings, clean hands and fingernails scrupulously with soap and water before touching infants or their toys, bottles, or pacifiers. Someone other than the foodhandler should care for children while chitterlings are being prepared.
- Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen:
- Use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods.
- Carefully clean all cutting boards, counter-tops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw meat.
- Dispose of animal feces in a sanitary manner.
Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012