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Listeriosis claims first city victim

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Nationally 36 have already died from the disease.

A PATIENT at Kimberley’s Lenmed hospital has died of Listeriosis (Lysteriamonocytogenis).

The disease has already claimed at least 36 lives around the country and local hospitals are on full alert for the detection of the infection.

While specialist physician at Lenmed Kimberley, Dr George Harris, was yesterday reluctant to give details regarding the patient who died as it was a breach of patient confidentiality, he stated that the patient had been immunosuppressed. “He developed complications from the infection, resulting in septic shock and death,” Dr Harris said.

“The patient was not a young, healthy individual.”

Meanwhile, no suspected or confirmed cases have been reported at the city’s Mediclinic hospitals.

According to the hospitals’ spokesperson, Denise Coetzee, Mediclinic Gariep as well as Mediclinic Kimberley are, however, on full alert for the early detection of Listeriosis in patients.

“We have sent out a letter to all our doctors to alert them as well as inform them about our action plans should a patient be present with this infection. To date we have had no suspected or confirmed cases,” she said.

Coetzee added that Listeriosis presented clinically with gastro, flu-like symptoms, which could lead to complications in pregnant women, neonatal sepsis and meningitis.

“People who are most at risk of developing complications from a Listeria infection are pregnant women, elderly people, premature babies and people with a weakened immune system. People who are in these risk groups and present with the above-mentioned symptoms should see their doctor,” Coetzee advised.

Dr Harris added “that the natural history of the infection varies greatly”.

“In healthy adults it often presents in an insidious manner. Patients may be asymptomatic, or develop self-limiting diarrhoea, however in immunosuppressed patients life-threatening complications can develop, including septic shock, with potential fatal outcomes.”

He stated that everyone should be aware of the possibility of the infection being present in the Northern Cape. “People who do develop symptoms should remind their healthcare provider to be aware that the infection could be Listeriosis.”

The civil rights organisation AfriForum yesterday afternoon meanwhile urgently requested the CEOs of the large fast-food restaurant chains and supermarket chain stores in South Africa to test their food against listeria before selling it to consumers.

The organisation said in a statement that it had taken this step after the Department of Health had still not announced an action plan after more than a week since the outbreak.

“We requested the various chain stores in writing to urgently take action to protect consumers against listeria as far as possible. Listeria can be treated provided that it is diagnosed early in a person. It can also be prevented if safety measures are taken. Chain stores are furthermore requested to keep consumers informed regarding listeria and preventative measures,” Marcus Pawson, AfriForum’s Head of Environmental Affairs, said yesterday.

Listeriosis has already caused the deaths of at least 36 people in South Africa.

At a media briefing in Pretoria earlier this week, Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said the source of the outbreak was likely to be a food product consumed by people across all socio-economic groups.

From 1 January to 29 November 2017, a total of 557 laboratory-confirmed Listeriosis cases have been reported in all provinces.

Most cases have been reported from Gauteng with 345 (62%) cases, followed by the Western Cape with 71 cases (13%) and KwaZulu-Natal with 37 cases (7%). The remaining 18% is distributed in the remaining six provinces.

“Out of 557 cases, we are certain of the final outcome for 70 cases. Of these 70 cases, 36 persons have died,” Minister Motsoaledi said.

Of the 557 laboratory confirmed cases, 34% were from the private health facilities, and 66% were from public health facilities.

“Given that only 17% of South Africans use private health facilities, this proportion of cases from private health facilities is too high. This indicates that the source of the outbreak is likely to be a food product that is widely distributed and consumed by people across all socio-economic groups,” said the Minister.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention describes Listeriosis as a serious, but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, Listeriamonocytogenes. The bacteria is found in soil, water and vegetation. Animal products and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables can be contaminated from these sources.

Although anyone can get Listeriosis, those at high risk of developing the disease include newborn babies, the elderly, pregnant women, persons with weak immunity such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease patients.

The age groups that are most affected are neonates – those in the first 28 days of life – and the age group 15 – 49 years. These two groups comprise 70% of all cases.

The Minister said while Listeriosis is a serious disease, it can be treated with antibiotics. Infection with listeria may result in:

– Flu-like illness with diarrhoea including fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness

– Infection of the blood stream which is called septicaemia

– Meningoencephalitis (infection of the brain)

Generally there are four possible sources of Listeriosis – directly at origin for example a farm, a food processing plant, a retail outlet and food preparation at home.

According to Motsoaledi it was believed that for this particular outbreak the most likely possible source was contaminated food at the origin – for example at farms as well as food processing plants.

However, investigations into the real cause of the outbreak are underway. “The source of this outbreak is currently being investigated, and all the stakeholders are cooperating with the investigation led by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).”

Environmental Health Officers are following up diagnosed cases and are visiting their homes to sample food where available.

There are 23 private food testing laboratories that are accredited by South African National Accreditation System which reports to the Department of Trade and Industry. These laboratories have been requested to provide data on Listeria to date as well as to provide isolates to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

So far, two have voluntarily submitted isolates from food samples.

In addition to this, five food and laboratory associations have also been requested to provide information to their members that have been testing for Listeria. These are the South African Meat Processors Association, South African Milk Processors Association, Milk South Africa, Consumer Goods Council and the National Laboratory Association.