It is expected this number could rise in the next few weeks.
AS THE number of deaths from listeriosis in the Northern Cape continues to rise, residents have been warned that more cases and deaths are likely in the next few weeks.
Three people in the Northern Cape have already died, including a 70-year-old man and a three-day old infant while nationally the number of deaths has climbed to 60.
According to the latest update on the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), by Tuesday this week there were 647 confirmed cases – 100 more cases in just 14 days – as well as 60 deaths.
Neonates are the most affected.
It was reported last week that an immunosuppressed patient at Kimberley’s Lenmed Hospital had died of listeriosis and yesterday the Northern Cape Department of Health confirmed the death of two patients from Danielskuil.
“The patients were treated at Kimberley Hospital for listeriosis recently,” Department of Health spokesperson, Lulu Mxkezo, said yesterday. “Sadly both passed on.”
Listeriosis has been declared a category 1 notifiable medical condition and must be immediately reported upon diagnoses. Environmental health practitioners have also been asked to visit the homes of persons diagnosed with listeriosis and sample available food where possible.
Food safety expert Dr Lucia Anelich pointed out yesterday that this is “undoubtedly one of the worst listeriosis cases in global history”.
“A large percentage of all the clinical isolates belong to the same sequence type which means that these isolates originate from a single source, most likely a food product on the market,” Dr Anelich stated.
This was confirmed by the NICD update report, which states that “most cases in this outbreak have had exposure to a widely available, common food type/source”.
The outbreak is across all provinces.
Dr Anelich has warned, however, that the outbreak has not yet peaked. “This is very disturbing as we will most likely see more cases and most unfortunately more deaths in the next few weeks.”
According to the NCID, most cases have been reported from Gauteng (63%), followed by Western Cape (13%) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%). Both Lenmed Hospital and Mediclinic in Kimberley said yesterday that no new cases or suspected cases had been admitted to the two private facilities.
The Northern Cape Department of Health has only referred to the two deaths so far.
Nationally cases have been diagnosed in both public (67%) and private (33%) healthcare centres.
Listeria monocytogenes is the primary cause of listeriosis.
The organism is found in soil, water, sewage and decaying vegetation.
It can cause two types of illnesses, the first being a mild, non-invasive illness (called listerial gastroenteritis) which shows typical symptoms of gastroenteritis ie fever and diarrhoea. This form is rarely diagnosed and usually passes quickly without severe effects.
The second is a severe, invasive illness (called listeriosis), which is characterised by a relatively high mortality rate (20 to 25%), in which the organism moves beyond the gut and infects other parts of the body.
People who have the greatest risk of experiencing listeriosis due to the consumption of foods contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes are pregnant women and their foetuses, the elderly (over 65 years), and persons with weakened immune systems, for example, undernourished persons, people who have had organ transplants, those with HIV/Aids, diabetes, cancer and other autoimmune diseases.
Pregnant women typically experience only fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches.
Infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn, such a meningitis.
People other than pregnant women show symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.
Symptoms usually appear one to four weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
According to Anelich, foods that have caused outbreaks are typically contaminated form the environment during manufacturing/processing or packing and it is usually associated with ready-to-eat foods.
This includes ready-to-eat deli meats (polonies, ham and hotdogs), refrigerated pates or meat spreads, unpasteurised milk and dairy products, soft cheese made with unpasteurised milk, refrigerated smoked seafood, raw sprouts as well as pre-packaged salads.