What happened the last time Listeriosis broke out in South Africa?


What happened the last time Listeriosis broke out in South Africa?

Johannesburg bore the brunt of the last epidemic…

What happened the last time Listeriosis broke out in South Africa?


South Africa is in the fearful grip of the largest ever Listeriosis outbreak in recorded human history. The disease has so far claimed 67 lives from 748 reported cases since the back end of last year.

The infection is contracted through the bacteria ‘listeria’, which can be found in vegetables as well as meat and dairy products. It thrives in warm, wet conditions and permeates the soil on farm land. Both animals and crops can be carriers of Listeriosis, which finds its way to humans when we consume said products.

To find out how you can avoid the illness, please read the Listeriosis safety guide we put together earlier this month. The outbreak in Mzansi has health officials and ordinary citizens on high alert, just as it did previously.

When was the last time Listeriosis was found in South Africa?

There were seven cases reported between January 2015 – September 2015. All of the cases were non-fatal, and reported at a tertiary hospital in the Western Cape.

When was South Africa’s last outbreak of Listeriosis?

When the disease begins to affect people outside of a certain environment, it becomes known as an ‘outbreak’. The last Listeriosis outbreak to hit South Africa was more than forty years ago.

The infection took hold of 14 people from in and around Johannesburg. A 48-year-old Sowetan male was the first to catch the disease on 3 August 1977.  Then, 13 more cases were recorded over the next nine months. A 28-year-old male was the last person to catch Listeriosis on 15 April 1978.

How deadly was the last Listeriosis outbreak?

Of the 14 patients infected, six died. Four of those were newborn babies. The disease strikes pregnant mothers and ‘neonatal’ infants particularly hard. Two males were confirmed as the other victims. This meant the mortality rate was 43%.

With the 2017/18 outbreak, the current mortality rate is under 9%. The listeria epidemic reported in the 1970s was the first of its kind in this country.

  • Jacobs MR, Stein H, Buqwane A, Dubb A, Segal F, Rabinowitz L, Ellis U, Freiman I, Witcomb M, Vallabh V. (September 1978) – Epidemic listeriosis. Report of 14 cases detected in 9 months. South African Medical Journal, 54(10):389-92.