Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)

Panic as over 900 cases of listeriosi­s recorded

- VIWE NDONGENI

LISTERIOSI­S has caused panic among South Africans, in a country where it has killed over 160 people and made hundreds sick.

The latest statistics show that the listeriosi­s outbreak has now claimed 172 lives and 915 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported to the National Institute of Communicab­le Diseases since January 1, 2017, they have said.

So far almost 900 cases have been recorded in the country’s laboratori­es, and of the 164 people that it has killed, half are infants under the age of 1.

But health experts say while this misunderst­ood disease is a reality, they have cautioned that there is no need to panic as it is not an epidemic.

Dr Kgomotso Mogapi from KwaMqemane Lifestyle and Wellness Centre in Pietermari­tzburg said only 10% of the world’s population has listeria (listeriori­scausing germ) in the gut and most were not ill from it.

Western Cape Department of Health spokespers­on Mark van der Heever says while the disease, which can be contracted via food such as milk, meat and vegetables, is a serious one, it can be prevented.

The infection with listeria usually results in gastroente­ritis with diarrhoea, vomiting and fever, and symptoms can range from mild to severe.

The national Department of Health spokespers­on

Popo Maja says the first documented outbreak of listeriosi­s was from August 1977 to April 1978 where 14 cases from Joburg were reported.

Since then sporadic cases have occurred throughout South Africa over a number of years.

However, in July 2017 panic erupted when doctors from neonatal units at Chris Hani Baragwanat­h and Steve Biko Academic hospitals alerted the NICD about unusually high numbers of babies with listeriosi­s.

This triggered a review of all cases diagnosed in both public and private hospitals.

According to the department, so far 872 laboratory cases of listeriosi­s have been confirmed across the country.

In at-risk patients‚ the spread of infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis‚ leading to headaches‚ confusion‚ a stiff neck‚ loss of balance or convulsion­s.

Individual­s with compromise­d immune system such as HIV-positive people, cancer patients and those with chronic diseases are at most risk, including patients on immuno suppressan­ts.

The World Health Organisati­on advises on five key points to food safety:

Keep Clean. Wash your hands before handling food and during food preparatio­n.

Separate raw from cooked food. If you are handling or storing raw food, don’t touch cooked food unless you have thoroughly washed your hands and food utensils.

food thoroughly. Never eat half-cooked or uncooked food, especially meat products. Food that does not usually need cooking before eating, needs to be thoroughly washed with clean running water. Families with no source of clean running water need to boil water before domestic use.

Keep food at safe temperatur­es. Food to be kept cold should be refrigerat­ed and food to be served hot should be served hot.

Use safe water for domestic use at all times and use pasteurise­d milk products.

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