A recent outbreak of listeriosis has been reported in multiple provinces in South Africa, claiming 36 lives so far. A total of 557 cases have already been reported this year.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has warned that newborns, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immunity, such as those with HIV, diabetes, cancer, and chronic liver or kidney disease are at a higher risk of developing listeriosis.
While there isn’t a vaccine to prevent this disease, listeriosis can be prevented and it is treatable.
Where does listeriosis come from?
Listeria is a bacteria found in soil, water and some animals including poultry and cattle. It can be found in raw milk and foods made with raw milk. Listeria can also live in food processing plants and contaminate processed meats.
Symptoms of listeriosis
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), infection can occur at any time during your pregnancy, but it is most common during the third trimester when your immune system is slightly compromised.
Symptoms may only show up 20 to 30 days after exposure and in pregnant women, these include:
- Mild flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches
If the infection spreads to your nervous system, it can cause a stiff neck, disorientation or convulsions.
How can this disease affect my unborn baby?
The APA says mothers who are infected with listeriosis are at an increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery. There’s also a chance that your unborn baby can become infected as well, which can result in a stillbirth or neonatal death.
How can I protect myself and my baby?
The APA recommends the following guidelines to reduce your chances of contracting listeriosis:
- Avoid mould-ripened cheeses. Soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert, and cheeses with blue veins may occasionally contain listeria, so it’s best to avoid these during pregnancy. Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, or spreadable cheeses such as cottage cheese, cream cheese- and processed cheese pose no risk to your pregnancy and can be enjoyed, except in the case of dairy-sensitivity and allergy.
- Avoid raw or unpasteurised milk products.
- Think twice about that ham sandwich. Processed meats like luncheon meats and hot dogs can potentially carry listeria that sometimes wind up in these products between the cooking and packaging process.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables before cooking with them or eating them.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling food.
- Make sure that surfaces where food is prepared are kept clean and hygienic.
- Clean your fridge often – it shouldn’t just be a spring-cleaning task.
- Avoid cross-contaminations between raw and cooked foods. For example, if you cut raw chicken on the cutting board, don’t use the same cutting board to cut the cooked chicken.
- Ensure that food is properly cooked and not underdone.
Is this disease treatable?
Yes. listeriosis can be treated with antibiotics to ensure that the infection doesn’t affect your unborn baby. If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.