Update on Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa

Thursday 15th February 2018 – The outbreak of Listeriosis in South Africa continues with 32 additional cases recorded since the last update. Although there is a decreasing trend, new cases are being reported and there has so far been 107 death related to Listeriosis.  

People should be reminded that Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. It is transmitted to persons through contaminated food or water. Healthy persons exposed to Listeria do not fall ill. The vast majority of cases are mild, and the most common form of disease is an acute, self-limiting gastroenteritis which presents with fever and diarrhoea; this usually resolves on its own without medical intervention within a day or two.

However, some infections are serious and persons may present with meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain), or bacteraemia (when the bacteria enters the bloodstream), or pregnancy-related complications, which includes miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and infection of the newborn.

Most cases have been reported in Gauteng, (Johanesburg), Western Cape and Kwazulu Natal. Several areas in South Africa are being affected and this include Johannesburg and Cape Town. The source of the food contamination which is believed to be from the same origin is suspected to be from meat or meat products.

The Public Health Authority in Seychelles continues to monitor the situation closely and has the laboratory capabilities to test for the bacteria. Treatment is also available locally if required.

Given that many Seychellois travel to and from South Africa, travelers are advised to exercise extra caution when selecting and consuming food and beverages.  

Listeriosis is mainly associated with consumption of contaminated Ready-To-Eat (RTE) foods and people need to be aware of the risk. Foods most often implicated in foodborne outbreaks globally, are:

  • Ready-to-eat deli meats 

  • Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads 

  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products 

  • Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as, Feta, Brie, Camembert 

  • Refrigerated smoked seafood 

  • Pre-packaged salads 

  • Listeria bacteria are killed by thorough cooking and by temperatures used for pasteurization of milk.
  • Until the origin of listeria contamination is identified, the WHO recommends that we follow the ‘FIVE KEYS to SAFER FOOD’
  • Wash hands and surfaces before and during food preparation. Wash hands before and after meals.
  • Separate raw and cooked food, and don’t mix utensils and surfaces when preparing 

  • Cook food thoroughly – all bacteria are killed above 70oC
  • Keep food at safe temperatures – Refrigerate food not being consumed immediately and reheat thoroughly,
  • If kept in the fridge it should be consumed within a few days otherwise freeze below minus 18oC. 

  • Use safe water and safe ingredients to prepare food. 

  • When travelling to affected areas avoid eating uncooked food and if it is consumed raw, wash thoroughly with safe running water before consumption.