Listeriosis is a serious bacterial disease that can be found in soil, water and contaminated food.
While South African health officials are still trying to find the exact source of the recent outbreak of Listeriosis, which has infected 557 people to date, there are prevention measures we can take.
1. Watch what we eat
Since listeriosis infection occurs when contaminated foods are eaten, it makes sense to avoid eating high risk foods.
The following foods that have a high risk of carrying listeriosis:
- Raw or unpasteurized milk, or dairy products that contain unpasteurized milk
- Soft cheeses (e.g. feta, goat, Brie)
- Ready-to-eat meats and foods from delicatessen counters that have not been heated/reheated adequately
- Refrigerated pâtés and smoked fish products
2. Check the fridge
Unlike most other foodborne pathogens, listeria monocytogenes can survive and even thrive in the fridge.
To prevent this, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) recommend dropping fridge temperatures to below 4°C and freezer temperatures below -18°C.
It’s common sense, but it’s also recommended to make sure uncooked meats and seafood are stored separately from other foods.
3. Wash up
Listeria can be spread by contact with contaminated hands, equipment and countertops.
To prevent this, wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
Since fruit and vegetables can also be contaminated, make sure you wash them thoroughly before eating.
Who can get Listeriosis?
Anyone can get Listeriosis. However, those at high risk include:
- The elderly
- Pregnant women
- Immunocompromised individuals and those with underlying conditions such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease
What are the symptoms?
According to the NICD, symptoms are usually mild in the average healthy adult and may include:
- Myalgia (muscle pain)
In people with weak immunity, listeriosis can lead to meningitis or septicaemia. Symptoms of meningitis include headaches, confusion, a stiff neck, loss of balance or convulsions.
In pregnant women, listeriosis may lead to pregnancy loss, premature births, infection of the newborn with meningitis and may cause permanent disability for the baby. Pregnant women may present with mild flu-like illness associated with a headache, fever and myalgia.
According to the NICD, the incubation period varies and can be between three – 70 days (median 3 weeks).
If you have any symptoms of listeriosis, seek medical attention immediately.
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