There has been a lot of worry surrounding the recent outbreak of Listeriosis in South Africa. Listeriosis is a serious medical condition that can, in some cases, be life-threatening. It’s important not to panic based on misinformation and unfounded fears.
The best thing to do right now is to empower yourself, by making sure you know all the facts about Listeriosis. Here are some straight answers to common questions and concerns about the outbreak.
What is Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is an infection caused by a bacterium called Listeria. People can become infected by eating food that’s been contaminated with this bacterium.
How is Listeriosis Spread?
Listeria is found in soil and water, and also in some animals like cattle and poultry. That means there are a few different ways this food-borne disease can spread.
Animals carrying Listeria can contaminate meat and dairy products. Processed foods like cold meats and soft cheeses can be contaminated after processing, especially if quality control is lacking during production. Unpasteurised (raw) milk and raw dairy products can also spread Listeriosis.
In some cases, even vegetables can carry Listeria, if they are grown in contaminated soil or fertilised with contaminated animal manure.
The current outbreak in South Africa has been traced back to ready-to-eat processed meat products – and the companies concerned have started the recalling process.
Am I at Risk?
Healthy adults and children with normally functioning immune systems are unlikely to become seriously ill from Listeria.
People with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, babies, pregnant women, people with cancer or diabetes, and people living with HIV/Aids are at a significantly higher risk.
A Listeria infection during pregnancy carries higher risk so pregnant women must take special care. Babies can also be born with the infection if the mother eats contaminated foods during her pregnancy. Listeriosis in babies is very serious and can be fatal.
How do I know if I have Listeriosis?
If you’ve eaten a contaminated product, it’s important to look out for common symptoms of Listeriosis, so that you can get treatment as soon as possible.
Listeriosis symptoms typically appear within a few days of infection, although it may take as long as 30 days for the symptoms to start. The infection usually resembles a ‘flu bug’. The infected person will experience fever and chills, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhoea. Listeriosis can also affect the nervous system, with symptoms such as headaches, neck stiffness, mental confusion, and even convulsions.
If you’re experiencing signs of Listeriosis, immediately seek treatment with your healthcare practitioner. While some infections will clear up on their own, others may require antibiotic treatments.
How can I Protect Myself from Listeriosis?
As always, prevention is better than cure. The good news is you can keep yourself (and your family) safe from infection by following a few sensible steps:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food.
- Store uncooked meat separately from cooked foods, ready-to-eat foods and vegetables.
- Keep your refrigerator clean; wipe up any spills immediately, to prevent Listeria growth.
- Cook raw animal-derived foods (beef, pork or poultry) thoroughly before eating.
- Wash your kitchen knives and cutting boards thoroughly after handling uncooked foods.
- Keep cooked hot foods hot and cold foods cold, to prevent the growth of bacteria.
- Avoid unpasteurised (raw) milk, and dairy products made from raw milk.
- Scrub raw vegetables thoroughly before eating, using a clean produce brush and clean water.
- If you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, avoid high risk foods like hot dogs, deli meats, polony, soft cheeses and pâté.
- Reheating contaminated food won’t make it safe. If you’re unsure whether a food is safe, err on the side of caution and don’t eat it.
If you have any further questions or concerns about Listeriosis, get in touch with your doctor or local clinic. Be smart, be informed, and be safe!
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