People still contracting listeriosis‚ despite product recall

The death toll from South Africa’s listeriosis outbreak last month was just one short of 200. Of the 199 deaths recorded so far‚ 105 are in Gauteng‚ according to an update from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

A total of 1‚019 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to the NICD since January 1‚ 2017.

Since the recall of implicated products on March 4‚ a total of 50 cases have been reported. Twenty-four (48%) were among neonates (babies under the age of 28 days) and three (6%) were among children age 1 month to 14 years old.

The NICD said cases could still be reported because the incubation period of listeriosis can be up to 70 days; the implicated products have a long shelf life and it is possible that despite the recall‚ some products have not been removed from retail or consumers’ homes; and cross-contamination at retail and in the home can occur.

On a positive note‚ the NICD said the number of cases of laboratory-confirmed listeriosis reported per week has decreased since the implicated products were recalled last month‚ with eight additional cases reported last week. Of the eight cases reported last week‚ one case occurred in October 2017 and was retrospectively reported‚ said the NICD.

“Since week nine (5 March 2018) ‚ cases per week have dropped to fewer than 15/week‚ with eight cases reported in week 14. At the height of the outbreak‚ 30 or more cases were reported weekly‚” the status update reported.

Overall‚ most cases have been reported from Gauteng province (59%‚579/1‚019) ‚ followed by Western Cape (13%‚ 127/1‚019) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%‚ 73/1‚019) provinces. The listeriosis outbreak was declared by the Minister of Health‚ Dr Aaron Motsoaledi‚ in December. The government identified the source of the outbreak as specific ready-to-eat processed meat products such as polony.

An updated Listeriosis Emergency Response Plan has been developed and approved by the health department‚ in order to intensify response activities to control and end the current listeriosis outbreak and strengthen health systems to prevent future outbreaks.

Listeria

Listeria is the name of a bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It can be present in raw milk and foods made from raw milk. It can also live in food processing plants and contaminate a variety of processed meats.

Listeria is unlike many other germs because it can grow even in the cold temperature of the refrigerator. Listeria is killed by cooking and pasteurization.

Who’s at Risk?  

  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Organ transplant patients who are receiving drugs to prevent the body from rejecting the organ
  • People with certain diseases, such as:
  • HIV/AIDS or other autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Liver disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes

What Do I Do?   If you are very ill with fever or stiff neck, consult your doctor immediately. Antibiotics given promptly can cure the infection and, in pregnant women, can prevent infection of the fetus.

How Do I Prevent It?  

  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat foods that have unpasteurized milk in them.
  • Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Rinse raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats, poultry, and seafood separate from vegetables, fruits, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as meat, poultry, or seafood to a safe internal temperature.
  • Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
  • Persons in higher risk groups should heat hot dogs, cold cuts, and deli meats before eating them.

At Risk Populations

Listeriosis, an infection caused by Listeria, can pose major risks for certain populations. Namely, pregnant women, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems are at greater risk.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are approximately 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. In pregnant women, it is typically a mild, flu-like illness. In the child, listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or life-long health problems.

Older Adults

As adults age, it is normal for their bodies not to work as well as they did when they were younger. Changes in their organs and body systems are expected as they grow older. These changes often make them more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness such as Listeriosis.

Other At Risk Populations

A properly functioning immune system works to clear infection and other foreign agents from the body.  However, certain conditions including cancer and its treatments, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and organ or bone marrow transplants can weaken the immune system – making the body more susceptible to many types of infections, including foodborne illness such as Listeriosis.

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