Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

Outbreak response teams have been mobilised by the City of Johannesburg to educate residents on how to prevent the spread of the food-borne illness listeriosis.

SA is experiencing a spike in cases of the illness‚ with 557 reported since January 1. At least 36 people have died this year‚ according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Most of the cases have been reported in Gauteng.

Dr Mpho Phalatse‚ Joburg MMC for health and social development‚ urged residents to educate themselves on the types of foods that are most likely to contain the listeria bacteria, and which preventative measures to take‚ especially for pregnant women‚ the elderly and individuals with compromised immunity.

Phalatse said it was important to check that the labels for dairy products‚ such as soft cheese‚ ice cream and yoghurt‚ say "made with pasteurised milk"‚ and if not, to avoid eating these products.

Listeriosis is a food-borne illness associated with food contaminated with listeria monocytogenes‚ including dairy products‚ fresh fruit and vegetables‚ as well as ready-to-eat products. After infection‚ the incubation period is between three and 70 days.

Symptoms include fever‚ muscle pain‚ restlessness and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea. In at-risk patients‚ the spread of infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis‚ leading to headaches‚ confusion‚ a stiff neck‚ a loss of balance or convulsions. The presence of bacteria in the blood‚ also known as bacteraemia‚ may also occur.

The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns‚ adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.

Director of public health for the City of Joburg‚ Dr Baski Desai said: "We have activated our environmental health outbreak units to monitor all our food outlets and also assist in educating communities on what steps to take to remain safe."

The city’s action plan will focus on:

• Good basic hygiene: Use only pasteurised dairy products; thoroughly cook raw food such as beef‚ pork or poultry; wash hands before preparing food‚ eating and after going to the toilet. Wash and decontaminate kitchen surfaces and utensils regularly; and wash raw fruit and vegetables before eating.

• Food safety: Keep food clean; separate raw and cooked food; cook it thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; and use safe water.

• People at high risk of listeriosis should avoid raw or unpasteurised milk; dairy products containing unpasteurised milk; soft cheeses; foods from delicatessen counters (such as prepared salads or cold meats) that have not been heated or reheated adequately; and refrigerated pâté.

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