In just a matter of a few days, the Listeriosis outbreak, described as the ” largest documented listeriosis outbreak South Africa has ever experienced”, has grown by 19 cases, with a new outbreak total of 767 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases as of Jan. 16.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) now puts the death toll at 81.

South Africa/CIA
South Africa/CIA

New data shows most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (60%, 462/767) followed by Western Cape (13%, 101/767) and KwaZuluNatal (7%, 55/767) provinces.

At present, the source of the outbreak is not known.

What is the South African government doing about this outbreak?

The National Department of Health is coordinating a multi-sectoral response with all agencies within government.

First, they are interviewing all persons who have been diagnosed with Listeria to understand what food they have eaten, and identify trends.

Second, they are working with the food safety and quality industry to obtain quality data from food control and to sample food production facilities.

Third, they have worked with infectious diseases physicians to draw up guidelines for diagnosing and treating the disease. Fourthly we are working with health promotion to increase awareness of how to prevent listeriosis. Presently no food sources that are contaminated with the outbreak strain have been found, including amongst poultry and poultry products.

Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. It is transmitted to persons through contaminated food. Most otherwise healthy persons exposed to Listeria do not fall ill. The vast majority of cases are mild, and the most common form of disease is an acute, self-limiting gastroenteritis which presents with fever and diarrhea; this usually resolves on its own without medical intervention.

Some infections are serious and persons may present with meningitis, or bacteremia (when the bacteria enters the bloodstream), or pregnancy-related complications, which includes miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and infection of the newborn.