Listeriosis: Cape Town woman hospitalised but cases taper off

A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of a Listeria sp bacterium in a tissue sample. (Getty)
A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of a Listeria sp bacterium in a tissue sample. (Getty)

Sporadic cases of listeriosis continue to affect South Africans even after the outbreak that killed 180 South Africans was declared over earlier this year.

Only last week, a 37-year-old woman from Tafelberg, Cape Town, was hospitalised after she was diagnosed with listeriosis.

Chantelle Wright suffered from migraines for a period of two to three weeks before she went to see a neurologist.

READ: Listeriosis outbreak officially over - Motsoaledi

"She was admitted to hospital on Tuesday and on Thursday the doctor said: 'I have good news and bad news – good news is we know what's wrong with you, bad news you can't go home'," Wright's husband, Henry, explained to News24.

"We asked him what's going on and he said that she has listeriosis. She's doing a lot better than last week, so we expect her to be out by the end of this week or next week."

Listeriosis is a bacterial infection that can cause severe illness – including severe sepsis, meningitis, or encephalitis – sometimes resulting in lifelong harm and even death.

The father of three said that the diagnosis scared him as the entire family ate the same food.

"We stopped eating the polony products – we threw that stuff out. Sometimes we order food from a company in Bellville that makes homemade food, or we order take-out – so it's difficult to pinpoint the cause," he said.

12 000 tons of food destroyed

In September, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that the listeriosis outbreak was officially over.

This meant that processed meat products could be consumed, but he urged people to pay attention to proper food safety, pointing out that while the outbreak was over, the disease was not completely gone.

He also said that despite concerted efforts, investigators had not been able to pinpoint exactly where the outbreak originated.

Motsoaledi said at the time that 62% of the listeriosis cases had occurred in Gauteng, and about 900 health inspectors in all districts were retrained.

The department identified 157 factories with listeria, and over 12 000 tons of food was recalled and destroyed.

Sporadic instances will occur for years to come

Spokesperson for the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) Dr Juno Thomas explained to News24 that while the listeriosis outbreak may be over, sporadic instances will occur for years to come.

"There have been a few sporadic cases in Cape Town, but there have also been sporadic cases nationwide and we expect that," she said.

"The bacteria is so widespread in our environment that the incidental contamination of food products will happen. Every now and then a high-risk person for the disease may be affected."

High-risk persons include pregnant women, those with HIV, diabetes, cancer, liver or kidney disease, and those aged over 65.

Thomas added that the NICD is continuing to monitor listeriosis cases to identify outbreaks early.

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