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Yersinia enterocolitica, a gram-negative coccobacillus, comprises a heterogeneous group of bacterial strains recovered from animal and environmental reservoirs. The majority of human pathogenic strains are found among distinct serogroups (e.g. O:3, O:5,27, O:8, O:9) and contain both chromosome- and plasmid (60 to 75 kb)-mediated virulence factors that are absent in "avirulent" strains. While Y. enterocolitica is primarily a gastrointestinal tract pathogen, it may produce extraintestinal infections in hosts with underlying predisposing factors. Postinfection sequelae include arthritis and erythema nodosum, which are seen mainly in Europe among patients with serogroups O:3 and O:9 infection and HLA-B27 antigen. Y. enterocolitica is acquired through the oral route and is epidemiologically linked to porcine sources. Bacteremia is prominent in the setting of immunosuppression or in patients with iron overload or those being treated with desferrioxamine. metastatic foci following bacteremia are common and often involve the liver and spleen. Of particular concern is blood transfusion-related bacteremia. Evidence has accumulated substantiating the role of Y. enterocolitica as a food-borne pathogen that has caused six major outbreaks in the United States. The diagnosis of Y. enterocolitica gastroenteritis is best achieved through isolation of the bacterium on routine or selective bacteriologic media. When necessary, serogrouping, biogrouping, and assessment for plasmid-encoded virulence traits may aid in distinguishing virulent from "avirulent" strains. Epidemiologically, outside of identified food-borne outbreaks, the source (reservoir) of Y. enterocolitica in sporadic cases is speculative. Therefore, prevention and control measures are difficult to institute.