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Listeriosis added to notifiable diseases list

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi made the announcement at an update briefing in Pretoria on Monday. He also announced that the death toll from an outbreak of the disease has risen to 61.

A microscopic view of the listeria bacteria. Picture: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

JOHANNESBURG - The Health Department has added listeriosis to the list of notifiable diseases.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi made the announcement at an update briefing in Pretoria on Monday.

He also announced that the death toll from an outbreak of the disease has risen to 61, while 727 have been confirmed cases nationwide.

Motsoaledi said listeriosis had met the minimum requirements for doctors to be legally compelled to report any cases of the disease to government officials.

He added that of the 119 new cases discovered since December, only five cases had been traced.

"Of the 119 new cases, we were only able to trace five. Of this five, three have passed on."

He said that Gauteng remained the hardest hit province with 442 laboratory-confirmed cases.

"The Western Cape is still number two at 13%, that means it's 92 out of the 727 cases. KwaZulu-Natal is still number three at 7%. Fifty-one of the 724 cases are in KZN."

A disease must meet at least two of the following criteria to be classified as a notifiable disease:

  1. The disease must be contagious/communicable;

  2. Rapid spread;

  3. Unusual or unexpected behaviour;

  4. Risk of spilling across borders;

  5. Risk of restriction to business of travel across borders

Mostoaledi said: “A disease must spread rapidly in the population. There must be unusual or unexpected behaviour. Listeria was not behaving unusually or unexpectedly for 40 years. It has now started to do so.”

Listeriosis is described as a serious, but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, and is widely distributed in nature. It can be found in soil, water and vegetation.

Animal products and fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables, can also be contaminated from these sources.

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

According to the Health Department, the age groups that are most affected are neonates, that means the first 28 days of life (37%) and the age group between 15 to 49 years (33%). It states that the two groups comprise 70% of all cases.

Infection with listeria may result in the following conditions:

  • Flu-like illness with diarrhoea, including fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness.

  • Infection of the bloodstream which is called septicemia.

  • Meningoencephalitis (infection of the brain).

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