07 - 03
Listeriosis. The outbreak of this disease in the Republic of South Africa, where it was first reported in January 2017, has so far resulted in 948 cases, including 180 deaths. According to the World Health Organization, the ongoing outbreak is the largest such case.
The outbreak has prompted nations including Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, and Namibia to ban processed meat from South Africa, where the Health Ministry has traced the source of infection to facilities owned by Enterprise Foods, and has ordered a recall of these products.
But what is listeriosis?
Listeriosis is a foodborne disease caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, a facultative anaerobe, i.e., it can survive in environments with or without oxygen.
L. monocytogenes is a ubiquitous microorganism in nature, found in water, plants, water, and in animal droppings; it is a hardy organism, capable of multiplying even at refrigeration temperatures. Only thorough cooking kills it. It’s present worldwide.
Infections among humans often spring from consuming contaminated food products, especially those deemed ready-to-eat, such as milk and its products (cheese, ice cream etc.), meats, poultry products, and fruits and vegetables.
Prior outbreaks of listeriosis, as documented by America’s Center for Disease Control, show that infection has in the recent past come from soft raw milk cheese, frozen vegetables, packaged salads, bean sprouts, cantaloupes, and prepackaged apples.
The current outbreak in South Africa seems limited only to processed meat, though countries such as Zambia have taken the preventive measure of also banning the importation of poultry products from South Africa.
Once infected with the bacteria, it takes an average of 3 weeks for the symptoms to manifest, though in some people it may take as long as 70 days before symptoms emerge. Others can become symptomatic within a day.
Symptoms are flu-like, including a fever, nausea, and muscle pain, in addition to stomach problems; in some cases, it can attack the nervous system, resulting in convulsions, headaches, and a loss of balance.
Children, pregnant women, and the elderly stand the highest risk of suffering the ravages of the disease.
In outbreaks, it is best to avoid preprocessed ready-to-eat-meals, ensure proper hygiene while handling food, and properly cooking meals before partaking of them.