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Western Cape health on high alert for #Listeriosis outbreak


On 05 January 2018 the national health department announced 61 people died of the disease in the country.

The Western Cape has the second highest number of cases in South Africa. A multisectoral outbreak response team (MNORT) led by the National Department of Health, which includes the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery and the Department of Trade and Industry was also established. It will investigate the source of the disease.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases and other relevant stakeholders will continue to monitor and co-ordinate the outbreak response activities. The Western Cape reported 92 cases, Gauteng 442 cases and KwaZulu-Natal 51. Marika Champion, Western Cape Health Department spokesperson, said 90% of the cases reported in the Western Cape came from the Cape Metro area. She said the disease has been regarded as serious after a national outbreak response team was established. "Our staff have been placed on alert to be on the lookout for patients presenting with corresponding symptoms so that they can be detected early and samples taken for testing.

"Symptoms are flu-like with fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and body pains. Symptoms may progress to more serious forms of the illness. In pregnant women, listeria infection is usually a mild gastrointestinal illness, but can affect the unborn baby. If you have any concerns about symptoms or illness, please consult your health practitioner," Champion said.

National Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said listeriosis is serious and treatable. "It is caused by the bacterium listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria are widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation.

"In December in Tshwane a chicken sample was collected from a fridge of a patient and it tested positive. The chicken was traced back to a store and from there traced to an abattoir. Work has commenced on implementation of a plan for inspection of food-processing facilities including packaging at distribution plants for bigger retailers and inspected by environmental health.

"Practitioners from municipalities initially within most affected provinces Gauteng, Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal had samples taken to assess the quality of the processing systems. The results will be used to guide public health interventions for listeriosis prevention control," he said.

Motsoaledi said even though the disease can affect anyone, people who are specifically vulnerable are pregnant women, the elderly, and people with HIV and Aids, diabetes, and chronic diseases like cancer, kidney and liver diseases. Mothers who have the disease can infect their babies at birth.

"Due to this high number of neonates, a special request to health workers and the public at large, is to pay special attention to all pregnant women. Have a high index of suspicion whenever dealing with a pregnant woman or a neonate. Be alert all the time, be it at antenatal clinic, labour ward, and neonatology units," he said.

Motsoaledi said in 2014, they launched a special programme called MomConnect, whereby they register every pregnant woman on cellphones. They send them messages every two weeks which commensurate with their period of pregnancy. "After birth we switch over the messages to the care of the newborn.

Since that period, we have registered 1.96 million pregnant women in that programme. I have now given instruction that all of them be sent instruction about listeria. We are calling on more pregnant women to register on MomConnect, be they in private or public, because it is during times like this when we are able to reach them quicker through messages," he said.

Dr Lucia Anelich a prominent South African food microbiologist and food safety expert, said the government has the technology, but not the necessary manpower and service in rural areas.

"We have the right technology and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has been following this since the start of 2017. We are however not doing enough, because the government health is not reaching everyone. In the more developed countries, there are also outbreaks, but those are much better managed and fewer people die," she said.

Education and communication with households, restaurants, eateries and other establishments remains key, Anelich said.


Cape Argus / 09 Jan 2018

 

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