The world’s largest listeriosis outbreak – what you need to know

Listeriosis has claimed 180 lives to date – read more to find out about the world’s largest listeriosis outbreak and what you need to know.

What is listeriosis?

Listeriosis is quite simply food poisoning. A more technical description is that it is food poisoning caused by foods that have been contaminated by the Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) bacterium. This bacterium is found in soil and water, and is thus transferred to the food and animals that come into contact with it.

Listeriosis affects mainly pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and adults with weak immune systems. This includes people with HIV/Aids, autoimmune diseases, cancer, liver disease, alcoholism or diabetes. If a pregnant woman eats food contaminated with listeriosis, the baby can be born with listeriosis.

Healthy adults and children sometimes are infected with L. monocytogenes, but they rarely become seriously ill. Babies can be born with listeriosis if their mothers eat contaminated food during pregnancy.

What food can get contaminated with listeriosis?

  • Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer.
  • Animals can carry the bacteria and can contaminate meats and dairy products.
  • Processed foods, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts, can be contaminated after processing.
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk can be contaminated.

One these foods have been contaminated, they are typically stored in a fridge, which causes the bacteria to grow.

How do I know if I have contracted listeriosis?

The following systems are associated with listeriosis:

  • Fever
  • Aching muscles
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

If the infection has spread to the nervous system, than the following systems could be experienced:

  • Headaches
  • Stiff neck
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions

It is important to note that infected pregnant women might experience mild, flu-like symptoms.
These symptoms can begin days or weeks after eating contaminated food.  See a doctor immediately if you may have eaten contaminated food and experience these symptoms. A blood test will confirm if you have been infected with listeriosis.

Treatment of listeriosis depends on the severity of the infection. Milder cases can be treated at home by bed rest and drinking clear fluids, while a severe infection may require antibiotics.

Where does this listeriosis outbreak come from?

This microscopic bacteria can live in the creases and nooks of a factory, and can survive being cleaned with detergents. It is also not spread consistently through food, so one slice of polony could contain the bacteria, but the next slice doesn’t.

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said the recent outbreak was traced to Enterprise’s Polokwane facility. And the product containing the disease is polony.
Other products like Viennas, Russians, Frankfurters, other sausages and cold meats not typically cooked could also be affected due to the risk of cross contamination.

Enterprise and Rainbow products have been removed from the shelves, as well as all ready-to-eat products such as polony and Russian sausages manufactured at the Rainbow facility in Sasolburg.

How can I prevent getting listeriosis?

You can avoid infection by:

  • Not drinking unpasteurised milk. Check food labels as some foods may contain raw milk (for example feta or brie cheese).
  • Always practicing good hygiene in the kitchen. Wash your hands regularly, and clean cutting boards, cutlery and crockery properly.
  • Cooking meat, poultry or fish properly. If you’re unsure, rather overcook than undercook. Foods need to be cooked or heated to at least 70ºC to prevent infection.
  • Not consuming foods past the expiry date.

Listeriosis is contagious, and you can catch it:

  • From someone who is infected – they can give you listeria if you eat food they’ve prepared if they haven’t washed their hands.
  • If you come into close contact with farm animals, particularly sheep or cows that are giving birth.

What are my rights if I have eaten food contaminated with listeriosis?

If you have lost a loved one to Listeriosis, you may be qualified to claim for compensation. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you should do this alone – the process can be arduous without experience.

At Gert Nel Attorneys we are able to help you navigate the often complex legalities and processes and help you to get the maximum possible compensation.

Our professional services are based upon a no win no fee basis.
For more information on fees, please see our document explaining client attorney fees.

Sources
• www.health24.com
• www.timeslive.co.za