Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa
The discovery of the Listeria pathogen in a food outlet in Johannesburg in January 2018 and another discovery in an abattoir in Tshwane later in the month is the cause of great concern to the health of the consumer.
According to the World Health Organisation, this outbreak of the disease Listeriosis in South Africa, with nearly 750 confirmed cases, is believed to be the largest-ever outbreak of this disease. The second largest outbreak was in 2011 in the United States.
Listeriosis is a serious, but preventable and treatable disease caused by the bacterium, listeria monocytogenes, which is found in soil, water, vegetation and some animal faeces. Animal products, including meat, seafood, dairy and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables, can all be contaminated. Foods commonly identified as sources of Listeria infection include cheeses (particularly soft-ripened varieties, such as traditional Mexican cheeses, Brie/Camembert and ricotta), ice cream, raw fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe, packaged lettuce, bean sprouts, peaches and caramel apples, pâtés, and cooked, ready-to-eat sliced deli meats.
Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organisation, said that the three-week incubation period makes it difficult to establish a source for this bacteria.
Lindmeier said South Africans were called upon to practice WHO’s “Five Keys to Safer Food” programme that included washing hands before and often during food preparation; separating raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods; and cooking foods thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.
Lindmeier underscored the importance for those with weakened immune systems – including the elderly and people living with HIV and cancer – and pregnant women, “who are 20 times more likely to get Listeriosis than other healthy adults,” to exercise care.
According to Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi’s update on the spread of the bacteria on the 22nd of January 2018 there were 727 laboratory-confirmed cases, but that they had only able to trace 134 of those cases to actual patients. Out of the 134 patients, 61 had died, but authorities were still working hard to trace the remaining patients. The majority of the cases are still in the Gauteng province region, with the Western Cape in second place and Kwa-Zulu Natal in third.
What is Listeriosis?
Listeria is a bacterium found in soil, water and vegetation. It can also occur in some animals, including poultry and cattle. Raw milk and foods made from raw milk can also carry the bacteria.
People should seek medical attention if they experience the following symptoms:
- Stiff neck
- General weakness
- Vomiting (sometimes preceded by diarrhea)
The majority of people infected by Listeria recover within seven days. However, those with a compromised immune system, older adults, infants or pregnant women require urgent medical care – treatment involves either a course of antibiotics or fluids through an IV drip.
The treatment of Listeriosis is usually symptomatic and depends on the severity of the disease. If your infection is severe, antibiotics may be recommended.
Home remedies include:
- Plenty of clear fluids such as water and tea
- The BRATdiet (bananas, rice, apple sauce, toast) and other bland foods that won’t irritate the stomach
- Bed rest
- Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk. Also, be careful of foods that contain raw milk.
- Practice good hygiene in the kitchen.Wash your hands regularly, and make sure cutting boards, cutlery and crockery are cleaned properly.
- Thoroughly cook animal foods such as meat, poultry or fish. Rather overcook than undercook.
- Keep an eye on the expiry dates of perishable foods. Consume as soon as possible.