The number of confirmed cases and fatalities has INCREASED significantly. Listeriosis is a potentially SERIOUS food-borne disease. Listeriosis is a serious but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes.

It can lead to conditions such as septicaemia (infection of the bloodstream) and meningitis (infection of the brain) and even DEATH if not treated promptly.

According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa has the LARGEST ever outbreak of the bacterial disease with 750 confirmed cases and 72 fatalities. The disease has now been declared a notifiable disease.

The outbreak has affected nine provinces but the worst affected are Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.

What causes Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, and is widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation.  Animal products and fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables, can be contaminated from these sources i.e.

  • Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer.
  • Animals can carry the bacteria and can contaminate meats and dairy products.
  • Processed foods, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts, can be contaminated after processing.
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk can be contaminated.

People most at risk

  • People at higher risk include those with a compromised immune system, older people, children and pregnant women.
  • Pregnant women are at higher risk of developing severe complications such as miscarriage or premature birth.

 Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

  • Symptoms include diarrhoea, flu-like symptoms, fever‚ general body pains‚ vomiting and weakness.
  • The symptoms vary from person to person, depending on their physiological and immune condition.
  • The incubation period varies between 3 – 70 days (the average is three weeks).
  • If symptoms are experienced visit a medical doctor immediately.
  • Diagnosis is confirmed through testing sterile body fluids such as blood.
  • Listeriosis is treatable with antibiotics and most people recover within seven days.
  • It is advisable to recover at home until the course of antibiotics is complete.

How to prevent Listeriosis

  • Shop safely. Buy food from reputable shops. Bag raw meat, poultry, or seafood separately from other food items. Drive home immediately after finishing your shopping so that you can store all foods properly.
  • Avoid commonly affected foods (raw sprouts, uncooked meat, unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses, smoked seafood and processed meat).
  • Defrost food in the fridge, in cold water or microwave rather than at room temperature.
  • Wash/sanitise hands and utensils such as knives and cutting boards before, during and after food handling.
  • If possible, use two cutting boards, one for fresh produce and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly in clean water or Milton sterilising fluid.
  • Cook foods thoroughly, especially meat, chicken, eggs and seafood.     
  • Serve foods safely. Keep cooked hot foods hot (60°C or above) and cold foods cold (4°C or below).
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable food, prepared food and leftovers within two hours.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set at 40°F (4°C) or colder. However, Listeria can grow in the refrigerator, so clean up any spills in your refrigerator, especially juices from hot dogs, raw meat, or poultry.
  • Prepare or consume food well before the expiry dates.