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Medicine (Baltimore). 1998 Sep;77(5):313-36.

Central nervous system infection with Listeria monocytogenes. 33 years' experience at a general hospital and review of 776 episodes from the literature.

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Infectious Disease Division, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114, USA.


We reviewed 776 previously reported and 44 new cases of CNS listeriosis outside of pregnancy and the neonatal period, and evaluated the epidemiologic, diagnostic, and therapeutic characteristics of this infection. Among patients with Listeria meningitis/meningoencephalitis, hematologic malignancy and kidney transplantation were the leading predisposing factors, but 36% of patients had no underlying diseases recognized. The infection occurred throughout life, with a higher incidence before the age of 3 and after the age of 45-50 years. Fever, altered sensorium, and headache were the most common symptoms, but 42% of patients had no meningeal signs on admission. Compared with patients with acute meningitis due to other bacterial pathogens, patients with Listeria infection had a significantly lower incidence of meningeal signs, and the CSF profile was significantly less likely to have a high WBC count or a high protein concentration. Gram stain of CSF was negative in two-thirds of cases of CNS listeriosis. One-third of patients had focal neurologic findings, and approximately one-fourth developed seizures over their course. Mortality was 26% overall, and was higher among patients with seizures and those older than 65 years of age. Relapse occurred in 7% of episodes. Ampicillin for a minimum of 15-21 days (with an aminoglycoside for at least the first 7-10 days) remains the treatment of choice. Cerebritis/abscess due to L. monocytogenes, without meningeal involvement, is less common but may be diagnosed by blood cultures and CNS imaging, or by stereotactic biopsy. Longer antibiotic therapy (at least 5-6 weeks) is needed in the presence of localized CNS involvement.

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