Listeriosis South Africa

Listeriosis in a petri-dish – Photo: Cabriolet2008 / Flickr

Listeriosis in SA: No “outbreak” as NCID move to ease fears over fatalities

There’s no need to panic. Listeriosis has caused a number of deaths in South Africa this year, but the total is well under the annual average.

Listeriosis South Africa

Listeriosis in a petri-dish – Photo: Cabriolet2008 / Flickr

The Listeriosis outbreak which killed more than 200 people between 2017 and 2018 was officially declared “over” 13 months ago. In this calendar year, 21 people have since succumbed to the disease in 77 confirmed cases. However, despite initial fears of the disease “making a return”, these figures are actually better than the average – and it must be noted that these recent reports are not part of an outbreak.

Listeriosis in South Africa – deaths, but no outbreak in 2019

A total of 1 060 Listeriosis cases were confirmed and 216 people died as a result of last year’s outbreak. The source was traced to a ready-to-eat (RTE) processed meat product – polony – made at a plant in Polokwane run by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by the multi-national corporation Tiger Brands.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) have told the Cape Argus that there have been Listeriosis-related fatalities since September 2018. The Food Works Blog also raised concerns about the Listeria strain last week.

Who is most likely to be affected by Listeriosis?

The NCID have also reacted to these recent fatalities. They have urged the public to avoid panicking about the situation. The illness is one that targets the most vulnerable members of our society, but the organisation have stressed that South Africans aren’t in any immediate danger:

“Cases of Listeriosis have been documented in South Africa for many years, and sporadic cases will continue to occur. Persons at high risk for disease (including pregnant women, those with HIV, diabetes, cancer, and those aged over 65 years) should preferably avoid foods that are at high risk of contamination with Listeriosis.”

“This includes dairy products (especially unpasteurised products and soft cheeses), ready-to-eat processed meat, and raw fruit and vegetables. All persons are advised to practice food safety measures, including the washing of hands before preparing meals and keeping raw food separated from cooked goods.”

Where does Listeria come from?

The harmful bacteria can be found in soil and mud which has been affected by stagnant groundwater. This transmits to the farm animals which graze the land, before they are killed for meat. The disease then finds its way into consumable products that aren’t thoroughly cooked, as the NCID mentioned above. Although they are calling for calm, the latest statistics suggest that Listeriosis isn’t completely under control in Mzansi:

  • There have been 31 cases reported in Gauteng, 23 in the Western Cape and 16 in KZN.
  • Around 57% of victims are female, and 36% of all cases in the past year have affected pregnant women.
  • Four cases in children aged from a month to 14 were reported.