Fourteen deaths in four days. That’s what the National Institute of Communicable Diseases’ latest listeriosis outbreak report reveals. The Times reports that, according to the NICD, a total of 81 people have died in South Africa from the disease‚ contracted from eating food contaminated with the food borne pathogen Listeria. In early December‚ the number of dead totalled 36.
In South Africa‚ the outbreak is spread across all nine provinces. Scarily‚ the 235 cases for which the NICD has “outcome data” reveals the death rate to be an alarming 34%. “This rate will likely change as the disease progresses and more cases are traced‚” said Pretoria-based food safety expert Dr Lucia Anelich. “The general mortality rates reported in other countries range between 20 and 25%.”
The report says as the number of confirmed cases‚ and deaths‚ continue to rise‚ the source – revealed by genome sequencing to be a particular strain‚ suggesting a single food or range of foods – remains unknown. Anelich says the “culprit” is most likely a product consumed “extremely often” across the country.
High on the list of foods known to have caused other listeriosis outbreaks are ready-to-eat foods‚ which consumers don’t cook or heat before eating. Primarily these are deli meats like ham‚ polony‚ cooked chicken and the like. “Deli meats are obviously consumed by a wide variety of people in the population‚ whether it’s a cheaper cut or a more expensive one‚” Anelich said.
The City of Johannesburg is greatly concerned about the increase in listeriosis cases, especially since Gauteng has the most reported cases of the bacterial disease in the country, reports City Press. On 16 January, there were 459 listeriosis cases reported in the province, with 212 cases from Johannesburg.
The report says Dr Mpho Phalatse, a member of the mayoral committee for health and social development, together with the city’s health officials, has presented an awareness campaign at Johannesburg Park Station to educate members of the public in hopes of containing the spread of the disease.
“If we work together and be vigilant in our own spaces we can stop the spread of listeriosis and avoid unnecessary deaths. We are facing huge challenges as wrong information is spreading about listeriosis. That is why it’s important that we continue the campaign,” said Phalatse
“The City of Johannesburg has activated environmental health outbreak units to monitor all food outlets and also assist to educate communities on what steps to take to remain safe. It is important to tell people to always take precautionary measures and to avoid certain foods that might cause listeriosis if not prepared accordingly,” said Dominic Mahlangu, strategic advisor of the municipality’s mayoral committee.
Phalatse said campaigns across the city’s seven regions will continue in key areas, like taxi ranks and clinics.
The cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth have, meanwhile, insisted that drinking water in the metropolitan areas was safe for consumption, reports News24. Port Elizabeth metropolitan spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki criticised “unfounded allegations” that its tap water was one of the causes of the listeriosis outbreak in the city.
Mniki was responding to a series of messages shared on social media, which contained warnings that the City’s water was contaminated and not safe to drink. The messages urged people to boil their water before drinking it. “The municipality can confirm that the water coming out of its taps is safe to drink,” Mniki said.
“This misinformation has not only caused panic across the city, it has also led to undue pressure on our service delivery call centre, which we use to deal with water leaks, among others.”
The report says the City of Johannesburg agreed, saying incorrect information complicated combating listeriosis. “It is important that we continue to educate and inform our communities about the dangers posed by listeriosis,” Phalatse said.
Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town said it was doing what it could to identify the source of listeriosis contamination in the city and ensure that food is safe. “Listeria crosses income and race boundaries. It can be present in anyone’s fridge,” mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services JP Smith is quoted in the report as saying.