Home South African News Listeria outbreak claims 36 lives

Listeria outbreak claims 36 lives


Foodborne disease treatable, preventable

Listeria monocytogenes. Picture: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

GAUTENG was the leading province with people who had reportedly been affected with the listeriosis disease. Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said 345 of the country’s 557 laboratories confirmed cases of the disease coming from this province.

There were 71 cases in the Western Cape while 37 came from KwaZulu-Natal, Motsoaledi told journalists in Pretoria.

Listeriosis was a serious but treatable and preventable disease, he said, caused by the bacterium called listeria monocytogenes.

The bacteria could be found in soil, water and vegetation.

“This is not a new disease. In South Africa the disease was discovered in 1997. From then on cases detected and treated at hospitals were between 60 and 80 annually.

“So when we discovered the number had escalated to more than 500 it became a serious concern as it had never happened before, hence we are alerting the public today.

“Ordinarily, this listeria is not notifiable, but when doctors working in the neonatal units in Chris Hani Baragwanath and Steve Biko Academic hospitals noticed that the number of newborn babies with the disease had increased they notified the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD),” he said.

Motsoaledi said that due to the findings, hospitals alerted the institute about the unusually high numbers of babies with listeriosis. And the number triggered a review of all cases diagnosed in both public and private hospitals.

Motsoaledi said: “The NICD started tracing the numbers from January this year. As of November 29, a total of 557 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported from all provinces.

“Out of the 557 cases, we are certain of the final outcome for 70 cases. Of these, 36 persons have died and 34 were discharged.”

He said the source of the outbreak was being investigated, but they believed the most likely possible cause was contamination of food at origin, such as at farms and in agriculture as well as at food processing plants.

Anyone could get listeriosis, he said, but those at risk of severe disease were newborns, the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying conditions such as HIV, diabetes, cancer or had chronic liver or kidney disease.

“In pregnant women, listeriosis may result in miscarriage along with meningitis in their infants. So to avoid this disease, it is important that people follow the five keys to safer food.

Symptoms include fever, myalgia and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea. “Pregnant women may present with mild flu-like illness associated with headache, fever and myalgia, however, infections during pregnancy can lead to premature births, infection of the newborn with permanent disability and miscarriage or stillborns.

“The five key things include keeping clean by washing hands before handling food; separating raw and cooked food; cooking thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood; keeping food at safe temperatures and using safe water and raw materials,” he said.