Deadly food-borne disease kills 36 people in South Africa, origin unknown

Electron micrograph of listeria monocytogenes bacterium in tissue

Electron micrograph of listeria monocytogenes bacterium in tissue

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

There are four possible sources of listeriosis in general, which include farms, food processing plants, retail shops and food preparations at home, Motsoaledi told a press conference in Pretoria, video-linked to Cape Town.

In a tweeted factsheet, the health ministry urged South Africans to use safe water supplies, ensure frequent hand-washing and separate raw and cooked food.

"Most cases (62%, or 345 cases) have been reported from Gauteng‚" Motsoaledi said.

Motsoaledi added that whilst anyone can get the diseases, which has a mortality rate of between 20% - 30%, those at a high risk of developing the disease are newborns, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immunity systems such as HIV or cancer sufferers.

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He said the bacteria was not new, as it occurs every year and is seen in hospitals with only 60 to 80 cases detected and treated each year. We had never reached a number of 557 before.

He said they had traced 70 patients, of whom 36 died. The health department said on Tuesday that Gauteng was hardest hit by the latest outbreak.

"Once information becomes available, proper public health response would be mounted".

The national department of health says the main preventative measure is to always ensure that good hygiene is followed. "Animal products and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables can be contaminated from these sources‚" Motsoaledi said.

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