The City of Johannesburg says it has activated outbreak response teams across the city to "help educate the public" on preventing the spread of listeriosis, a disease that has thus far claimed over 30 lives.
MMC for Health and Social Development, Dr Mpho Phalatse, called on residents to educate themselves on the types of food that are most likely to contain listeria and what preventative measures to take.
She said pregnant women and the elderly with compromised immunity were particularly at risk.
Phalatse said it was important for people to always check that the labels on dairy products such as soft cheese, ice cream and yoghurt say "made with pasteurised milk", or otherwise avoid eating these products.
The city director of public health, Dr Baskie Desai, said while listeriosis was a laboratory diagnosis, his unit would work closely with the national health department while continuing to educate the community on what they should do to avoid getting infected.
"We have activated our environmental health outbreak units to monitor all our food outlets and also assist in educating communities on what steps to take to remain safe. It is important to tell our people to always take precautionary measures and to avoid certain foods that might cause listeriosis if not prepared accordingly."
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that 36 people had succumbed to the disease, which can be treated with antibiotics.
The bacteria is found in soil, water and vegetation.
Of the 557 cases reported, the majority have come from Gauteng.
Of the 345 cases reported in Gauteng, 172 were reported from the City of Johannesburg.
Listeriosis is a foodborne illness that is associated with eating a wide variety of food contaminated with listeria monocytogenes, including dairy products and produce, fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as ready-to-eat products.
After infection, the incubation period varies and can be between 3-70 days.
Up to 10% of people may be asymptomatic carriers. This figure may be higher in abattoir and laboratory workers who work with listeria monocytogenes cultures.
In the average healthy adult, infection is usually asymptomatic.
Symptoms are usually mild and may include fever, muscle pain, restlessness and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea.
In at-risk patients, the spread of infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis leading to headaches, confusion, a stiff neck, loss of balance or convulsions. The presence of bacteria in the blood, known as bacteraemia, may also occur.
The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.
The City said its action plan will focus on:
1. The main preventive measure is to always ensure that good basic hygiene is followed. This includes:
- Using only pasteurised dairy products;
- Thoroughly cooking raw foods from animal sources, such as beef, pork or poultry;
- Washing your hands before preparing food, before eating and after going to the toilet;
- Washing and decontamination of kitchen surfaces and utensils regularly, particularly after preparing raw meat, poultry and eggs, including industrial kitchens;
- Washing raw vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating.
2. Five keys to food safety:
- Keep food clean;
- Separate raw and cooked food;
- Cook thoroughly;
- Keep food at safe temperatures;
- Use safe water and raw materials.
3. Those at high risk of listeriosis should avoid the following foods:
- Raw or unpasteurised milk, or dairy products that contain unpasteurised milk;
- Soft cheeses (e.g. feta, brie, goat's cheese);
- Foods from delicatessen counters (e.g. prepared salads, cold meats) that have not been heated/reheated adequately;
- Refrigerated pâtés.