What is listeriosis?

It is an infection from a bacteria called Listeria usually found in soil but transmitted to humans through food that is known to be contaminated.

Symptoms noticed include diarrhoea, fever, body ache and nausea. Most people will recover from this quickly and easily themselves and may not even see a doctor. If however a person is pregnant or immune compromised they may develop a more serious infection and it may even prove to be fatal. For mild cases treatment is supportive and for more severe cases antibiotics may be used.

Why are we still talking about it?

Mainly to be aware that Listeria infection can occur up to a month after ingesting the contaminated products. Although, as previously discussed, only if you are unwell and fall into those immune compromised groups do you need to be mindful of this.

So far 180 people have died from this current outbreak since January 2018, mostly in Gauteng and mostly immune compromised people. It is something we need to take seriously but we also need to bear in mind that in this outbreak not all meat products were affected, and of those who did ingest it, the vast majority of people will be fine.  Gastroenteritis in an immunocompetent person is shortlived and no testing or antibiotic is needed.

People who are more at risk if they notice any of theses symptoms are those >age 65, HIV positive, people with cancer or on chemo or immunotherapy, those suffering from chronic liver and kidney disease. Babies less that a month old or pregnant women are also at risk.

If you have symptoms and fall into one of these categories as well as having had ingested the Enterprise meat products that were affected then you may need to see your GP.

What you can do to to prevent it?

  • Cooking food above 70deg kills the bacteria.
  • Wash areas in the fridge where contaminated food may have been stored with dilute bleach
  • Keep raw and cooked food and their utensils/chopping boards separate.
  • Scrub vegetables and wash lettuce leaves under running water and soak them in salted water before spinning dry.
  • Eat only cheeses that come from pasteurised milk.

Outbreaks like this serve to make us aware of what we are putting into our bodies and they also highlight the importance of basic health and safety practices, and that these simple steps above help prevent potential serious illnesses from developing.

Contributor: Dr Susan Ford, Medical Doctor at FEMINA HEALTH.

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