Listeriosis scare continues as deaths jump to 204

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South Africans need to ramp up their hygiene habits, in light of the listeriosis outbreak. PHOTO: TWITTER

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported this week 204 people have so far died of listeriosis and, despite the number of reports slowing down, the disease has yet to run its course.

“Following a recall of implicated products, the number of cases are going down. However, it is anticipated that cases could still be reported,” the NICD statement read.

This was due to an up to 70-day incubation period, the long shelf life of implicated food products and the possibility not all contaminated products have been removed from retailers or consumers’ homes.

Government yesterday said the National Health Laboratory Service’s food testing capacity had been strengthened through employment of additional human resources, equipment and updated standard operating procedures, while specimen collection procedures had been refined.

The statement also noted a review of food safety legislation was being conducted and a consultative meeting regarding compulsory specifications for processed meat was due to be held this week.

As of Monday, 1 033 cases had been reported, of which the top three province’s in terms of deaths were Gauteng (106), Western Cape (30) and KwaZulu-Natal (21).

“Listeria monocytogenes is the primary cause of the illness called listeriosis. The organism is an environmental pathogen and is found in soil, water, sewage and decaying vegetation,” said Dr Lucia Anelich of Anelich Consulting.

“It can be readily isolated from humans, domestic animals, raw agricultural commodities and food packing and processing environments [particularly, cool damp areas that can contaminate food].

“Persons at the greatest risk of contracting listeriosis due to consumption of foods contaminated with L monocytogenes are pregnant women and their foetuses, the elderly [over 65 years of age] and persons with weakened immune systems.

“For example, undernourished persons, people who have had organ transplants, those with HIV/ Aids, diabetes, cancer and other autoimmune diseases are all at risk.”

The NICD noted the National Consumer Commission and the department of environmental affairs continued to obtain details regarding the recall and destruction of affected food products.

“Affected products are being warehoused and destroyed at a rate of 80 tons per day.”

Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility, owned by Tiger Brands, was implicated by the NICD as being one of the culprits. – Amanda Watson/The Citizen

amandaw@citizen.co.za