Listeriosis in South Africa has killed 172 people since the start of last year, officials said Thursday, as the country struggles to contain the world’s largest reported outbreak of the disease.
Listeriosis is caused by a natural bacteria found in soil, water, vegetation and animal faeces, and can contaminate food, especially meat, dairy, seafood and fresh produce.
It is prevented by basic hygiene and washing food, but South African authorities admit the source of the worsening outbreak is still unknown.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases said 915 cases of listeriosis had been confirmed since January 1, 2017, leading to 172 deaths.
The new toll was a sharp jump on the 61 deaths confirmed by early last month.
The United Nations has said South Africa’s listeriosis outbreak is believed to be the largest-ever worldwide.
The disease mainly affects children and has a three-week incubation period, making it difficult to track.
Most of the current cases have been in Gauteng province, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, with other cases concentrated in Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
Contamination in humans can result in flu-like illness, infection of the bloodstream and, in severe cases, infection of the brain — which can prove fatal.
People with compromised immune systems, like some of those living with AIDS and pregnant women, are at a heightened risk, according to the World Health Organisation.
It advises people to wash hands and kitchen surfaces, keep raw and cooked food separate, to cook food thoroughly and store it in the fridge.
The NICD said it was optimistic that the source of the outbreak would be found, and urged members of the public “not to panic unnecessarily.”
It warned vulnerable people to avoid processed, ready-to-eat meat products such as ham and sausages, soft cheeses, and unpasteurised milk and dairy products.
South African authorities said specialised tests were being conducted by experts at the NICD laboratories to detect the source and end the outbreak. Punch