WHO Records the Highest Listeria Outbreak in South Africa

During the Easter holidays, the World Health Organization (WHO) recorded the highest Listeria outbreak in history. The outbreak which stemmed from a meat-production plant in Polokwane, South Africa has claimed the lives of about 189 people in the country. The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases has confirmed 982 cases of listeriosis since the outbreak began in January.

Listeria has an incubation period of up to 70 days, meaning that experts expect more cases will be reported in the coming days. Additionally, ready-to-eat meat products like those produced by the Polokwane factory have a long fridge life and can cross-contaminate other products, increasing the likelihood that more people will be infected.

Listeria infections are typically caused by eating contaminated food. Most healthy people under the age of 65 will have symptoms such as diarrhoea and fever, though these infections are rarely diagnosed.

The infection is much more dangerous for older adults, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women (as it can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and newborn death).

However, an otherwise healthy person who is not pregnant typically does not need treatment. Symptoms will usually go away within a few weeks.

If you are pregnant and become infected with listeriosis, antibiotics may often infect the foetus or newborn. Babies who have listeriosis receive the same antibiotics as adults, although a combination of antibiotics is often used until your doctor is certain the cause is listeriosis.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 dies. The most recent major listeria outbreak in the US was in 2011 when seven people died after eating contaminated cantaloupe.

The meat-production plant, Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility, issued a recall on its ready-to-eat processed meat products on March 4.

The homepage of Enterprise Foods’ website is currently a public safety announcement, asking customers to remove products from their refrigerators, place them in sealed plastic bags, and return them to stores for a full refund.

The incident in South Africa is the largest listeria outbreak that has ever been detected, the World Health Organization said earlier this month. WHO additionally expressed concern that the outbreak could spread to different African countries and is offering assistance in monitoring and the diagnosing of listeria if needed by Governments.