Deadly listeria outbreak is food-borne: Motsoaledi

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says the infection doesn't have to be fatal

An outbreak of food-borne listeria bacteria has claimed 36 lives and infected nearly 600 people in South Africa, the health minister said Tuesday, warning that newborns and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. The Western Cape had the second-most reported cases (71) followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 37 cases.

At a press briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday, Motsoaledi announced that there is an outbreak of Listeriosis which is a bacterium disease found in soil, water and vegetation, which contaminates food sources such as animal products and fresh produce. "Tracing from the 1st of January 2017, as of 29 November a total of 557 laboratory confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported from all provinces", Motsoaledi said.

A listeria infection may result in flu-like symptoms with diarrhoea, infection of the blood stream and infection of the brain.

Listeriosis can be best prevented by eating hot, cooked foods, washing hands and raw vegetables thoroughly and by avoiding raw, uncooked, non-pasteurised dairy products.

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Those at high risk of developing severe disease include newborns, the elderly, pregnant women, persons with weak immunity such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease.

Motsoaledi said it was still unknown where the outbreak originated.

The department has not found the origin of the outbreak but suspects food contamination at the source, such as farms or food processing plants. "The source of this outbreak is now being investigated", he said.

Members of the public can contact the NICD Emergency Operations Centre during working hours at 011 386 2000.