Are you concerned? Here’s what you need to know about listeriosis


News about the source of the latest listeriosis outbreak in South Africa have caused a national panic. The identification of certain popular processed meats, like polony, vienna and russians, means that many more people may be at risk. Here’s what you need to know.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Please note that the infection incubates for between 3 and 70 days. This means it can take up to three months before it can show itself.

In healthy adults, symptoms are usually mild and may include:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • muscle aches

In high-risk patients, it can cause meningitis leading to:

  • headaches and confusion
  • a stiff neck
  • convulsions

Who is at higher risk?

There are certain groups that are at higher risk of suffering severe cases of listeriosis. These include:

  • New-borns
  • The elderly
  • Pregnant women and their unborn babies
  • People with weakened immune systems such as those suffering from HIV, diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease.

Experts point out that pregnant women are particularly prone because pregnancy causes a natural reduction in the strength of the immune system.

How to protect yourselves?

There is no vaccine that can prevent infection?

The main preventive measure is good basic hygiene, and proper, safe food preparation and storage.

Those at high risk of listeriosis should avoid:

  • Raw or unpasteurised milk, or dairy products that contain unpasteurised milk,
  • Soft cheeses like feta, goat cheese and brie,
  • Foods from delicatessen counters like prepared salads and cold meats that have not been heated and reheated adequately
  • Refrigerated pâtés

Additional preventative measures include:

  • Thoroughly cooking raw foods from animal sources, such as beef, pork or poultry.
  • Raw fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before eating.
  • Surfaces where food is prepared should be decontaminated regularly, particularly after preparing raw meat, poultry and eggs, including industrial kitchens.

This article was adapted from two main sources:

An article by Kerrigan McCarthy, the head of the Outbreak Response Unit in the National Institute for Communicable Diseases

An article by Vincent Ho, Senior Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist, Western Sydney University

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