Department of Health warns against Listeriosis outbreak in SA

THE National Department of Heath has issued a warning to citizens of the outbreak of a food borne disease called Listeriosis.

According to the statement by Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Listeriosis is a serious, but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes and is widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation.

Furthermore, animal products and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables can be contaminated from these sources.

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Infection with listeria may result in the following three conditions:

  • Flu-like illness with diarrhoea including fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness.
  • Infection of the blood stream which is called septiceamia.
  • Meningoencephalitis (infection of the brain).

“Individuals at high risk of developing severe disease include newborns, the elderly, pregnant women, persons with weak immunity such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease,” said Motsoaledi.

According  to the Department, the age groups most affected are neonates, that means the first 28 days of life (37 per cent) and the age group between 15 to 49 years (33 per cent). It said the two groups comprise 70 per cent of all cases.

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How is Listeriosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis is usually made by culture of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid bathing the brain and spinal cord). During pregnancy, a blood test is the most reliable way to find out if symptoms are due to listeriosis.

How does a person get Listeriosis?
Infection occurs mainly through eating contaminated food. The incubation period (time between initial infection and first symptoms appearing) ranges between 3 and 70 days. The average incubation period is 3 weeks. If a woman eats contaminated food during pregnancy, the infection can be passed across the placenta to the baby.

How does Listeria get into food?
Listeria monocytogenes is widespread in the environment and can be found in soil and water. Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer. Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill. Meat or dairy products from these animals can be contaminated. Foods may also be contaminated after processing, e.g. cheese.

The foods most often associated with infection are ready-to-eat refrigerated and processed foods such as: pre-prepared cooked and chilled meals, soft cheeses, cold cuts of meat, pâtés and smoked fish.

How is listeriosis treated?
Listeriosis can be treated with antibiotics. However even with treatment, infection can be severe and may result in death, especially in the elderly.

How can I protect myself from listeriosis?
Protecting yourself against listeriosis is particularly important for pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. As with other food borne illnesses, there are several measures that will help to reduce your risk of infection with Listeria monocytogenes:

  • Keep foods for as short a time as possible and follow storage instructions including ‘use by’ and ‘eat by’ dates.
  • Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, ensuring that it is cooked through to the middle.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Wash salads, fruit and raw vegetables thoroughly before eating, or peel if appropriate.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after contact with uncooked food.
  • Make sure that the refrigerator is working correctly.
  • When heating food in a microwave, follow heating and standing times recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Throw away left-over reheated food. Cooked food which is not eaten immediately should be cooled as rapidly as possible and then stored in the refrigerator.

 

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  AUTHOR
Deshni Ramkissoon-Pillay
Journalist

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