Health Dept investigating source of listeriosis outbreak

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has confirmed that 36 people have died of listeria and 557 cases have been detected.

FILE: Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: GCIS.

CAPE TOWN - Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says they’ve launched an investigation into the source of the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa.

Motsoaledi has confirmed that 36 people have died of it and 557 cases have been detected.

Listeriosis is a serious bacterial infection found in soil, water and vegetation. And animal products and fresh produce can become contaminated.

Motsoaledi says newborns, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immunity are at high risk of getting listeriosis.

Most cases of the food-borne disease have been reported in Gauteng followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Typically, between 60 and 80 cases are detected and treated in South Africa every year.

Motsoaledi, however, says in July doctors from neonatal units at two Gauteng hospitals reported an unusually high number of babies with listeriosis.

Of the 557 cases, 34% were confirmed at private health facilities, while 66% were detected at public hospitals.

Motsoaledi says this indicates that the source of the outbreak is likely to be a food product that’s widely distributed and consumed by people across all socio-economic groups.

Motsoaledi reiterates listeriosis is treatable and preventable.

Motsoaledi explained: “There are three things that can happen to you when you get listeriosis; you can get flu-like symptoms or diarrhoea, septicaemia, which is the infection of the whole bloodstream and meningoencephalitis, meaning your brain and membrane surrounding the brain are infected.”

Motsoaledi is urging anyone with symptoms of listeriosis to urgently seek medical help.

Motsoaledi says the exact source of the outbreak is under investigation.

“It does have a cure… It can be treated with an antibiotic called ampicillin. While it has a cure, it’s also virulent, meaning it’s a very angry bacterium and can be fatal.”

(Edited by Zamangwane Shange)