National Emergency Operations Centre, at The National Institute For Communicable Diseases is currently dealing with listeria. Picture: ALON SKUY
National Emergency Operations Centre, at The National Institute For Communicable Diseases is currently dealing with listeria. Picture: ALON SKUY

Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa has admitted that it is difficult for the provincial government to manage the spread of listeriosis in Gauteng.

On Tuesday‚ Ramokgopa presented a report to the Gauteng portfolio committee on health detailing active plans to deal with the spread of listeriosis. She told the committee that a number of teams had been set up, guided by specialists and experts from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to deal with the its spread.

Ramokgopa admitted it has been hard trying to contain its spread. "It is not as easy as management of a measles outbreak. With measles, we know [it] and were able to contain [it] within a limited period of time. But this one has been really difficult and that is why we are working with the agriculture sector to make sure there are no possible areas of risk and infection. Gauteng is also heavily affected because of it being a referral centre."

On December 5‚ Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced an outbreak of listeriosis in the country. At the time, there were 36 recorded deaths nationally of which 27 were in Gauteng. Last week‚ the death toll from the outbreak topped 100 — the worst documented listeriosis outbreak in global history.

The NICD announced that the number of confirmed listeriosis cases was now 852 and that 107 people had died. The death rate — based on the outcome data for 355 cases — now sits at 30%. Of the confirmed cases‚ 42% were babies less than a month old‚ pregnant women being 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than other healthy adults.

Contracted from eating food containing the bacterium listeria‚ listeriosis is the most deadly of food-borne diseases‚ the death rate in other documented outbreaks being up to one in four. And still the source of the outbreak — thought to be a food product or range of products from one company — remains unknown.

Most cases, 59%, have been reported in Gauteng‚ with 13% of cases in the Western Cape and 7% in KwaZulu-Natal; roughly two thirds of cases have been confirmed in state hospitals and a third in private ones.

In its report, the Gauteng department of health said the following was being done to deal with listeriosis:

• A provincial joint operation committee and sub-committees have been established to co-ordinate the response.

• A communicable disease control WhatsApp chat group on listeriosis has been established for officials.

• Frequently asked questions and guidelines on the management of listeriosis have been circulated to all relevant practitioners in the province.

• Regular weekly NICD updates on the outbreak are being forwarded to all relevant practitioners in Gauteng.

• A case management workshop on listeriosis was held from October 19-20 last year, which was attended by doctors and infection-control nurses.

• Home visits are being conducted in confirmed cases to collect food and water samples for microbial testing.

• Random sampling and testing of cases from butcheries‚ abattoirs‚ and food-processing plants continue to be conducted.

• Pregnant woman receive regular, salient messages through the Mom Connect app.

A national conference on Listeriosis was held on February 1 to discuss prevention and control of the outbreak.