Yersiniosis is a bacterial infection. Most often, yersiniosis results from handling or eating raw or undercooked pork. It causes diarrhea and abdominal pain, but symptoms usually clear up without treatment. To prevent yersiniosis, always ensure meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature and wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
What is yersiniosis?
Yersiniosis is an infection. It results from bacteria called Yersinia enterocolitica. Most often, people get this infection when they eat pork that’s raw or undercooked. You can also get it from other animals, such as rodents, cows, sheep, rabbits and horses. Less commonly, dogs and cats can spread the bacteria, too. Young children are more likely to get yersiniosis.
This infection causes fever and gastrointestinal (GI) problems such as diarrhea. Most often, yersiniosis clears up without treatment. But you may need antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Rarely, yersiniosis can cause other health issues, such as a rash and joint pain.
Who might get yersiniosis?
Anyone can get yersiniosis. But it’s more common in children than adults. People who prepare chitlins (a food made from pig intestines) are more likely to get the infection. They’re also more likely to spread it to others, especially children.
How common is yersiniosis?
In the United States, yersiniosis affects about 117,000 people every year. Nearly 650 people have to go to the hospital for treatment, and around 35 people die from the infection each year.
What causes yersiniosis?
People get this infection from ingesting (eating) the Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria. Rarely, a person can get yersiniosis by receiving blood (through a blood transfusion) from an infected person.
You may ingest the bacteria by:
Drinking milk or water that’s contaminated with bacteria.
Eating food that’s contaminated (food poisoning), most often raw or undercooked pork.
Handling the feces (poop) of a person or animal that has the infection.
Preparing raw pork, such as chitlins, and touching your mouth before washing your hands. You can also spread the bacteria to others if you touch them (or their belongings) after preparing uncooked pork.
Touching a surface or an object contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria and then putting your hands in your mouth.
What are the symptoms of yersiniosis?
Yersiniosis causes problems in your digestive system. Symptoms of yersiniosis usually appear between four to seven days after coming into contact with the bacteria. They can last up to three weeks. In young children, the most common yersiniosis symptoms are:
Abdominal pain and cramping.
Diarrhea (usually bloody diarrhea).
Sore throat (pharyngitis).
Older kids and adults usually have the same symptoms as younger children. But they’re more likely to have abdominal pain on the right side. Many adults with yersiniosis mistakenly believe that they have appendicitis since right-sided abdominal pain is a common sign of that condition.
Remember that you are contagious while you have diarrhea and up to three months after diarrhea has stopped. That means you can spread the infection to others if they come into contact with your feces. Take extra care to wash your hands to avoid spreading the infection and making others sick.
How is yersiniosis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider asks about your symptoms and does a physical examination. They may request a stool sample and send it to a lab. The lab tests for Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria.
How can I treat yersiniosis?
Most of the time, yersiniosis gets better without treatment from your provider. Your body gets rid of the bacteria that made you sick. But it can take several weeks for symptoms to go away completely.
While you’re recovering. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to reduce your risk of dehydration. If you have severe yersiniosis, you may need prescription antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
How can I prevent yersiniosis?
You can lower your risk of yersiniosis by:
Avoiding unpasteurized products: only eat and drink pasteurized milk, ice cream and cheese. Pasteurized products are safe to consume because they have been through a process that kills most bacteria.
Being careful with animal waste: Dispose of animal feces in a separate, sealed garbage container. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling animal waste.
Cooking food properly: Never eat raw pork or other types of raw meat. Always cook food to a safe internal temperature, and use a food thermometer to make sure it’s cooked enough.
Preventing cross-contamination: When preparing food, use a separate cutting board for meat and other products. Keep raw meat away from other foods.
Taking extra precautions while preparing chitlins: When preparing chitlins, avoid touching anything until you’ve washed your hands thoroughly and scrubbed under your fingernails. Don’t touch kids or their belongings while preparing food. When you’re done, use a bleach solution to clean all surfaces, pots and utensils. Let the bleach sit for several minutes before cleaning it off with paper towels.
Washing your hands: Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, changing diapers or playing with an animal. Wash your hands before eating, cooking or touching a child’s bottle or pacifier, especially if you’ve handled raw meat.
What are the complications of yersiniosis?
Complications of yersiniosis are rare. Symptoms usually go away on their own without treatment. Some people develop a skin rash on their abdomen and legs. Women are more likely to get this rash after getting infected with yersiniosis. The rash usually clears up in about a month and doesn’t cause long-term health problems.
Rarely, people with yersiniosis develop reactive arthritis about four weeks after the yersiniosis infection. Reactive arthritis causes joint pain that is often worse in the wrists, knees and ankles. It can take up to six months for symptoms of reactive arthritis to get better.
Though uncommon, the infection can enter your bloodstream. This can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
When should I see my healthcare provider about yersiniosis?
If you or your child have signs of yersiniosis, call your provider for an evaluation. It’s important to get checked out and determine what’s causing your symptoms. Get medical help right away if diarrhea or abdominal cramps are severe.
Yersiniosis can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating or handling raw or undercooked pork. This bacterial infection can make you or your child feel miserable. But you can take steps to avoid it. Keep your hands clean and wash them thoroughly after handling animal feces. If you’re preparing chitlins, you should be extra careful about food safety. Have someone else care for children while you’re handling chitlins. Clean your hands, surfaces, pots and utensils thoroughly when you’re done.