Exact source of listeriosis outbreak remains a mystery

Some 727 cases have been recorded across the country, with the second highest number of cases in the Western Cape at 92.

FILE: Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: GCIS.

CAPE TOWN - The exact source of a countrywide listeriosis outbreak remains a mystery.

Some 727 cases have been recorded across the country, with the second highest number of cases in the Western Cape at 92.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says the department recorded 119 new cases of listeria nationally since 5 December 2017. Sixty-one people have died from the disease.

Motsoaledi says that of the 119 new cases discovered since December, only five cases have been traced.

Motsoaledi says further tests will be done.

“A genetic fingerprinting is done by following the DNA of the organism to see whether the DNA found in the patient’s blood can be linked to the DNA extracted from the food sample and the DNA found inside the food production site.”

The Health Department says that while it has found traces of listeriosis in an abattoir in Pretoria, it cannot conclude that the slaughterhouse is the source of the current outbreak.

The department traced the abattoir after a listeriosis patient was found with some of its meat.

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 say 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.

LISTEN: Listeriosis now a ‘notifiable disease’ as state tries to find source

Additional reporting by Graig-Lee Smith and Kgomotso Modise.