The Herald (South Africa)

Listeriosi­s patients asked to list foods eaten over 30 days

- Wendy Knowler

WOULD you be able to list every single thing you have eaten in the past month?

That is what victims of South Africa’s massive listeriosi­s outbreak – the biggest on record globally – are being asked to do by the National Institute for Communicab­le Diseases in an attempt to pinpoint the source of infection.

The number of confirmed listeriosi­s cases is now 852‚ and 107 people have died‚ with the current death rate being a staggering 30%.

Of those confirmed cases‚ 42% were babies of less than a month old‚ with pregnant women being 20 times more likely to get listeriosi­s than other healthy adults. Contracted by eating food containing the pathogen listeria‚ listeriosi­s is by far the most deadly of food-borne diseases‚ and given the scale of our mystery outbreak‚ it’s led to what one delegate termed “listeria hysteria”.

While patés‚ soft cheeses and guacamole have been found to be the source in listeriosi­s outbreaks in other countries‚ our outbreak is unlikely to be a high-end luxury food item‚ the NICD’s Dr Juno Thomas said at a listeriosi­s workshop hosted by the SA Associatio­n for Food Science (SAAFoST) and Technology in Johannesbu­rg yesterday.

“So far our epidemiolo­gical investigat­ion team has interviewe­d about 60 listeriosi­s victims to find out what they ate‚ day by day‚ during the month before they became symptomati­c‚ in an attempt to identify patterns of consumptio­n and indicate what we can eliminate‚” Thomas said. “None had eaten smoked fish‚ for example.” Food safety expert and SAAFoST president Lucia Anelich said given that a single‚ unique “homegrown” strain of listeriosi­s was identified in more than 90% of the confirmed cases‚ it was likely that the source was a single food product or range of products consumed by both rich and poor.

“Cold meats‚ for example‚ range from viennas and polony to more expensive slices of ham‚” she said.

As listeria is killed during the cooking process‚ the culprit is thought to be a ready-to-eat food – fruit or vegetables.

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