South African Outbreak of Listeria – Worst in World History – May Be Contained

JOHANNESBURG – According to Times Live, “On Thursday in Johannesburg‚ Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and SADC health ministers and ambassadors held an emergency high-level inter-ministerial meeting to discuss the world’s largest listeriosis outbreak that started in South Africa.”

The ominous approach of Day Zero for the Cape Area of the country has reaped much more press than the listeria outbreak. The World Health Organization has confirmed 978 cases of listeria in South Africa. Another case was reported in Namibia on March 12th. The outbreak has taken the lives of 183 people.

On March 17th, the WHO announced that it had been able to identify that the source of the food-borne illness is polony, a type of bologna sausage that is popular in South Africa and the surrounding regions. Malawi has intensified its screening of South African imports. Mozambique and Namibia have temporarily banned the importing of polony. At least four other countries have banned the importation of nearly all South African-produced farmed and processed foods.

A product recall has been issued for 3,500 tons of the suspect product in South Africa and 15 other countries where the identified brand has been shipped. Other brands have voluntarily recalled similar product in an abundance of caution.

Although the product carrying the bacteria has been identified, root-cause investigations will have to be conducted with corrective action measures to follow.

Listeria can have a very long incubation period in healthy individuals, evidencing itself as a type of food poisoning. The South African Health Minister has noted the vulnerability of people already infected with the HIV virus. South Africa has “the largest HIV burden in the world.”

Although the cause has been found and the product has been recalled the Health Ministry expects more cases to emerge over the next several months.

Symptoms of listeria include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and overall weakness. Untreated cases can result in sepsis or meningoencephalitis.

People with HIV, diabetes, cancer or chronic liver or kidney disease are considered high risk.


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