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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

What is the incubation period for listeriosis?

Véronique Goulet*, Lisa A King, Véronique Vaillant and Henriette de Valk

Author affiliations

Infectious Diseases Department, Institut de Veille Sanitaire, 12 rue du val d'osne, 94415, Saint Maurice, France

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Citation and License

BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:11  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-11

Published: 10 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Listeriosis is a foodborne infection with a low incidence but a high case fatality rate. Unlike common foodborne diseases, the incubation period can be long. The first incubation periods were documented during a large listeriosis outbreak published in 1987 by Linnan and al. in the New England Journal of Medicine (range: 3 days to 70 days). Data on the incubation period of listeriosis are scarce. Our study aim was to estimate precisely the incubation period of listeriosis using available data since 1987.

Methods

We estimated the incubation period of listeriosis using available published data and data from outbreak investigations carried out by the French National Institute for Public Health Surveillance. We selected cases with an incubation period calculated when a patient had a single exposure to a confirmed food source contaminated by Listeria monocytogenes.

Results

We identified 37 cases of invasive listeriosis (10 cases with central nervous system involvement (CNS cases), 15 bacteraemia cases and 12 pregnancy-associated cases) and 9 outbreaks with gastroenteritis. The overall median incubation period of invasive listeriosis was 8 days (range: 1–67 days) and differed significantly by clinical form of the disease (p<0.0001). A longer incubation period was observed for pregnancy-associated cases (median: 27.5 days; range: 17–67 days) than for CNS cases (median: 9 days; range: 1–14 days) and for bacteraemia cases (median: 2 days; range: 1–12 days). For gastroenteritis cases, the median incubation period was 24 hours with variation from 6 to 240 hours.

Conclusions

This information has implications for the investigation of food borne listeriosis outbreaks as the incubation period is used to determine the time period for which a food history is collected. We believe that, for listeriosis outbreaks, adapting the exposure window for documenting patients’ food histories in accordance with the clinical form of infection will facilitate the identification of food products as the source of contamination. We therefore propose to take an exposure window of 14 days before the diagnosis for CNS and bacteraemia cases, and of 6 weeks before the diagnosis, for pregnancy-associated cases.

Keywords:
Listeriosis; Incubation; Listeria monocytogenes; Outbreak