The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi together with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, The World Health Organization, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry briefing members of the media on a food borne disease outbreak. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA/GCIS
The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi together with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, The World Health Organization, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry briefing members of the media on a food borne disease outbreak. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA/GCIS

An outbreak of food-borne listeria bacteria had claimed 36 lives and infected almost 600 people in SA, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Tuesday. Newborns and the elderly were especially at risk.

Listeriosis is a preventable disease caused by listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which are typically transferred through contaminated food and are readily treatable with antibiotics. A total of 557 cases have been confirmed so far, according to Motsoaledi.

"The bacteria is widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation," he told a media briefing in Pretoria.

"The following foodstuffs can be contaminated and cause the disease: meat and all animal products, fruits and vegetables."

Contamination in humans could result in a flu-like illness, infection of the bloodstream and, in severe cases, infection of the brain, which could prove fatal, he added.

People with compromised immune systems, like some of those living with HIV/AIDS and pregnant women, are also at heightened risk, according to the World Health Organisation.

There is no vaccine to prevent infection. However‚ preventative measures include washing hands before handling food and during food preparation, separating raw food from cooked food, cooking food thoroughly and never eating half-cooked or uncooked food‚ especially meat products.

Gauteng accounted for the bulk of the cases, with 345 reported so far. The Western Cape had the second most reported cases (71).

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