Outbreak response teams have been mobilised by the City of Johannesburg to educate residents on how to prevent the spread of the food-borne illness listeriosis.
South Africa is experiencing a spike in cases of the illness‚ with 557 reported since January 1. At least 36 people have died this year‚ according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.
Most of the cases have been reported in Gauteng. MMC for Health and Social Development‚ Dr Mpho Phalatse‚ urged residents to educate themselves on the types of foods that are most likely to contain the Listeria bacteria and which preventative measures to take towards their health‚ especially pregnant women‚ the elderly and individuals with compromised immunity.
Phalatse said it was important to check that the labels from dairy products‚ such as soft cheese‚ ice cream and yogurt‚ say “made with pasteurised milk”‚ or otherwise avoid eating these products.
Listeriosis is a food-borne illness that is associated with eating a wide variety of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes‚ including dairy products and produce‚ fresh vegetables and fruit‚ as well as ready-to-eat products. After infection‚ the incubation period can be between three to 70 days.
Symptoms include fever‚ muscle pain‚ restlessness and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea. In at-risk patients‚ the spread of infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis‚ leading to headaches‚ confusion‚ stiff neck‚ loss of balance or convulsions. The presence of bacteria in the blood‚ also known as bacteraemia‚ may also occur.
The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns‚ adults aged 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems.
Director of Public Health in the City of Joburg‚ Dr Baskie Desai said: “We have activated our environmental health outbreak units to monitor all our food outlets and also assist in educating communities on what steps to take to remain safe.”
The city’s action plan will focus on:
• Good basic hygiene. Use only pasteurised dairy products‚ thoroughly cook raw food such as beef‚ pork or poultry‚ wash hands before preparing food‚ eating and after going to the toilet. Wash and decontaminate kitchen surfaces and utensils regularly‚ wash raw vegetables and fruits before eating.
• Food safety. Keep food clean‚ separate raw and cooked food‚ cook thoroughly‚ keep food at safe temperatures‚ use safe water.
• People at high risk of listeriosis should avoid: raw or unpasteurised milk‚ dairy products containing unpasteurised milk‚ soft cheeses‚ foods from delicatessen counters (such as prepared salads or cold meats) that have not been heated or reheated adequately and refrigerated pâté.