Listeria Kills Dozens In South Africa

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

Listeriosis is a serious, but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes.

At least 36 people have died.

Motsoaledi adds environmental health officers are following up on diagnosed cases and are visiting the homes of these patients to sample food where available.

An outbreak of food-borne listeria bacteria has claimed 36 lives and infected nearly 600 people in South Africa, the health minister said on Tuesday, warning that newborns and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

The country's health department confirmed the outbreak at a press conference on Tuesday stating that the majority of the 557 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases were coming from the Gauteng province.

Out of the 557 cases reported, 345 cases were reported in Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape which reported 71 cases, and 37 cases of Listeriosis reported in KwaZulu-Natal.

Of these cases, 34% were from private health institutions.

"As you can see the three provinces alone are responsible for 82% of the total cases".

He said infection with listeria may result in conditions including flu-like illness with diarrhoea, including fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness, infection of the bloodstream which is called septicaemia, and meningoencephalitis [infection of the brain].

Dr Motsoaledi said the disease mostly affects the elderly and children, and it can be treated with antibiotics.

Motsoaledi cited the World Health Organisation's food safety tips to prevent possible infection. "We also need to cook food thoroughly, especially meat products and to use pasteurised milk products", Motsoaledi concluded.

If families have no clean water supply, they should boil the water.

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