Dozens dead after Listeria outbreak in South Africa

Listeriosis has claimed lives of thirty-six people in South Africa  following an outbreak of the rare infection said Health Department officials on Tuesday.

A total of 557 cases have been reported this year alone‚ a steep jump from the average of between 60 and 80 reported in previous years.

Listeriosis is a rare infection but deemed serious by health professionals. The main source of cause is known to be by eating food contaminated with the bacteria listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria is present in soil, water and vegetation. It is usually present in raw milk and other dairy products.

Humans contract it through animal products and fresh fruits and vegetables. The bacteria Listeria can survive in cold temperatures and the only way to kill these bacteria is cooking and pasteurisation.

The disease causes flu-like symptoms and can lead to nausea, diarrhoea, infection of the bloodstream and brain.

ALSO READ: Ten things to know about listeriosis click here

Risk factors of listeria infection: Pregnant women, the elderly or individuals with a weakened immune system, i.e. people in immuno-compromised status due to HIV/Aids, leukaemia, cancer, kidney transplant and steroid therapy, are at greatest risk of severe listeriosis.

How to diagnose Listeriosis: A blood test for listeria. In some cases, it may be necessary to get a sample of spinal fluid or urine.

Treatment for listeriosis: Listeriosis treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms; mild listeriosis usually goes away on its own and severe symptoms require oral antibiotics.

How to prevent Listeriosis: Listeriosis can be best prevented by eating hot, cooked foods, washing hands and raw vegetables thoroughly and by avoiding raw, uncooked, non-pasteurised dairy products.

Listeria can resurrect itself in your body

listeria treatment south africa
In this image from the Pasteur Institute, Listeria monocytogenes (shown in red) is in the process of infecting tissue cells.

A recent study of Listeria monocytogenes at AgroParis Techn and Université Paris-Saclay documented how the pathogen can remain dormant and undetectable in people, making infections difficult for doctors to diagnosis.

Symptoms of listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, can take up to 70 days after exposure to appear. The researchers found the pathogen can go undetected by diagnostic tests, because of its ability to enter “host cells” during cell division. The bacteria are viable, but in a state that prohibits cultivation during lab tests.

Listeria can function differently in liver and placenta tissues. The pathogen’s protein production can come to a temporary halt, making it able to resist antibiotics. Pregnant women infected by Listeria are at risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and spreading the infection to their newborns.

These dormant forms of Listeria monocytogenes can last for weeks and months. Frequently spread by contaminated food, Listeria’s ability to hide in cells and certain tissues for such long periods of time makes the investigation of sources of contamination particularly difficult.

ALSO READ: Ten things to know about listeriosis click here

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