21 people succumb to listeriosis as fresh cases are reported

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Colleta Dewa

Johannesburg - South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has confirmed that 21 more people have this year succumbed to the deadly listeriosis bacteria which killed more than 200 people in a  2017/2018 outbreak.

The NICD told journalists that 87 cases of listeriosis were confirmed, adding, however, that these should not cause South Africans to panic.

The NICD said since it was announced that the outbreak had come to an end in September last year, 87 cases had been reported in South Africa.

According to the numbers released by the NICD, out of the 87 cases, Gauteng had the highest number with 31 reported cases, while 23 were reported in the Western Cape and 16 in KwaZulu-Natal.

The NICD said ages ranged from birth to 80 years, while 57% of the cases reported involved females.

“Ages range from birth to 80 years and 57% are female. Thirty-six percent of cases are pregnancy associated, with 30 out of 84 cases, followed by adults aged 15-49 and 50-64. Four cases in children aged from a month to 14 were reported.  Of the cases reported, 36% were pregnancy-associated," said the NICD.

The illness targets the most vulnerable members of society, but the organisation has stressed that the country was not 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,” said NICD.

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 are not thoroughly cooked.

Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.

But infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness.

This month, lawyers representing people affected by the listeriosis outbreak in lawsuits against Tiger Brands said the court action was facing long delays. The company received summons for the class action in April last year.

The South Gauteng High Court determined that Richard Spoor Attorneys could continue the class action on behalf of about 1 000 people.

Tiger Brands has issued subpoenas against food-testing laboratories to obtain information about the identities of people who submitted samples for testing listeriosis and the results of those tests during the outbreak.

Two laboratories, Aspirata and Deltamune, have indicated that they would oppose this as the information is confidential. In a worst-case scenario, the matter could go all the way to the Constitutional Court, which could take years.

 

 

 

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