HEALTH UPDATE: LISTERIOSIS OUTBREAK- What YOU need to know

Outbreak: The Health Department has announced that ready-to-eat processed meats are the source of the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), listeriosis disease has claimed 180 lives to date and 78 of those deaths were infants. This fatality included newborns who were only 28 days or even younger, said IOL news website. The Health department has further advised South Africans to avoid polony, Viennas, Russians and other ready to eat meat products for now as they are believed to be the source of the latest listeriosis outbreak.

What is listeriosis and why is it dangerous?

According to enca news website, listeriosis is a serious bacterial infection caused by the rod-shaped bacteria listeria monocytogenes. The bacterium is spread when people eat food contaminated with the bacterium. The most common foods to be contaminated are raw or unpasteurised milk as well as soft cheeses, or vegetables, processed foods and ready-to-eat meats and smoked fish products.

 

High-risk groups:

Infection with listeria bacteria results in mild to severe gastroenteritis. In people with weak immune systems it can lead to meningitis or septicaemia. And in pregnant women, listeriosis can result in a miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or meningitis in the newborn – leading to with permanent disability.

 

Symptoms:

  • Some of the symptoms include flu-like symptoms like fever and nausea as well as diarrhoea.
  • In high-risk patients, the spread of infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis, leading to headaches, confusion, and a stiff neck, loss of balance or convulsions.
  • Pregnant women may present with a 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 stillbirth.

 

How can we protect ourselves from this infection?

There is no vaccine or pre-exposure prophylaxis that can prevent infection. The main preventive measure is good basic hygiene, and proper, safe food preparation and storage.

Unlike most other food-borne pathogens, Listeria monocytogenes can grow in refrigerated foods that are contaminated. To prevent this, fridge temperatures should be set below 4⁰C; and freezer temperatures below -18⁰C.

 

Those at high risk of listeriosis should avoid:

  • Raw or unpasteurised milk, or dairy products that contain unpasteurised milk,
  • Soft cheeses like feta, goat cheese and brie,
  • Foods from delicatessen counters like prepared salads and cold meats that have not been heated and reheated adequately,
  • Refrigerated pâtés

Additional measures include thoroughly cooking raw foods from animal sources, such as beef, pork or poultry. Raw fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before eating. And surfaces where food is prepared should be decontaminated regularly, particularly after preparing raw meat, poultry and eggs, including industrial kitchens.

 

What to do with your products?

The public have been advised to remove any Enterprise ready-to-eat products from their fridges and place them in a plastic bag away from other products. Keeping them among other products could cause cross contamination.

 

Sources: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/listeriosis-outbreak-what-you-need-to-know-20180305; https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/gauteng/listeriosis-78-of-killer-disease-deaths-were-infants-13613808 ; http://www.enca.com/south-africa/symptoms-associated-with-listeriosis and https://www.enca.com/south-africa/explainer-what-is-listerosis

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