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Fresh Listeriosis Scare For South Africa: 21 People Killed By Deadly Disease


The Listeriosis outbreak which killed more than 200 people between 2017 and 2018 was officially declared “over” 13 months ago. However, despite no official emergency being called, a further 21 people have since succumbed to the disease over the past year, in 77 confirmed cases.

Listeriosis returns to South Africa – how many people have died?

The outbreak which ravaged South Africa recently was the deadliest on record. A total of 1 060 Listeriosis cases were confirmed and 216 people died as a result. The source was traced to a ready-to-eat (RTE) processed meat product – polony – made at a plant in Polokwane run by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by the multi-national corporation Tiger Brands.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) have told the Cape Argus that there have been Listeriosis-related fatalities since September 2018, with almost one-third of confirmed cases resulting in death. The Food Works Blog also issued their concerns about the Listeria strain last week:

“The food industry appears to be having more food safety issues with the food-borne illness of Listeriosis. This may be due in part to more and more consumers using highly processed foods and ready-to-eat meals with long shelf lives.”

 Food Works Blog

Who is most likely to be affected by Listeriosis?

The NCID have also reacted to these recent fatalities. They have urged the public to avoid panicking about the situation, but the illness is one that targets the most vulnerable members of our society. The organisation have reiterated how South Africans can avoid contracting the deadly disease:

“Cases of Listeriosis have been documented in South Africa for many years, and sporadic cases will continue to occur. Persons at high risk for disease (including pregnant women, those with HIV, diabetes, cancer, and those aged over 65 years) should preferably avoid foods that are at high risk of contamination with Listeriosis.”

“This includes dairy products (especially unpasteurised products and soft cheeses), read-to-eat processed meat, and raw fruit and vegetables. All persons are advised to practice food safety measures, including the washing of hands before preparing meals and keeping raw food separated from cooked goods.”

Where does Listeria come from?

The harmful bacteria can be found in soil and mud which has been affected by stagnant groundwater. This transmits to the farm animals which graze the land, before they are killed for meat. The disease then finds its way into consumable products that aren’t thoroughly cooked, as the NCID mentioned above. Although they are calling for calm, the latest statistics suggest that Listeriosis isn’t completely under control in Mzansi:

  • There have been 31 cases reported in Gauteng, 23 in the Western Cape and 16 in KZN.
  • Around 57% of victims are female, and 36% of all cases in the past year have affected pregnant women.
  • Four cases in children aged from a month to 14 were reported.
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