Listeriosis outbreak: What you should know

Listeriosis is a serious, but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria is widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation. Animal products and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables can be contaminated from these sources.

Infection with listeria may result in the following three conditions:
• Flu like illness with diarrhoea including fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness
• Infection of the blood stream which is called septiceamia
• Meningoencephalitis (infection of the brain)

Although anyone can get Listeriosis, those at high risk of developing severe disease include newborns, the elderly, pregnant women, persons with weak immunity such as HIV, Diabetes, Cancer, Chronic liver or Kidney disease.

Listeria monocytogenes is a disease that occurs every year and is seen in our hospitals, typically 60 – 80 cases are detected and treated annually. However, in July 2017 Doctors from neonatal units in the Chris Hani Baragwanath and Steve Biko Academic hospitals alerted the NICD about unusually high numbers of babies with listeriosis. This triggered a review of all cases diagnosed in both public and private hospitals.

In October 2017 the Multisectoral National Outbreak Response Team (MNORT) was briefed on the situation in the country.

Tracing from the 1st of January 2017, as of 29 November 2017, a total of 557 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported from all provinces. Out of 557 cases, we are certain of the final outcome (discharge or death) for 70 cases. Of these 70 cases 36 persons have died.

Food safety in SA is managed intersectorally by Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Trade and Industry. Local government is responsible for municipal health services which include the enforcement of food safety legislation. The DTI looks after all aspects of fish and fishery products while DAFF manages meat safety and animal health.

There are four possible sources of listeriosis in general. These are:
• Directly at origin e.g. farm
• Food processing plant
• Retail
• Food preparation at home

The source of this outbreak is currently being investigated, and all the stakeholders are cooperating with the investigation led by the NICD. Environmental Health Officers are following up diagnosed cases and are visiting their homes to sample food where available.

 

Whilst the department continues with the investigation, the WHO has advised on five keys to food safety, which are the following:

• Keep Clean. Wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation. Please don’t get tired of washing your hands. If it means washing hundred times a day, please do it!
• If you are handling or storing raw food, don’t touch already cooked food unless you have thoroughly washed your hands and food preparation utensils. In other words separate raw from cooked food.
• Cook food thoroughly, never eat half cooked or uncooked food especially meat products. Food that does not usually need cooking before eating, need to be thoroughly washed with clean running water. For families with no source of clean running water need to boil their water before domestic use.
• Keep food at safe temperatures. Food to be kept cold should be refrigerated and food to be served hot should be served hot.
• Use safe water for domestic use at all times and use pasteurised milk products. In situations where pastueurization is not possible, for own domestic consumption, please boil the milk prior to use

Members of the public call the following number: NICD Emergency Operations Centre during working hours (011 386 2000)
For Health workers: The NICD Hotline for Clinical Emergencies after hours (082 883 9920)

Information provided by the Department of Health
  AUTHOR
Jonothan Hen-Boisen
Digital Content Creator

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