The listeriosis death toll has risen to 61 since the outbreak was announced in early December.
The source of the outbreak has still not been determined, but Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has said genome sequencing was being carried out to shed light on the source of the outbreak.
Listeriosis, a serious, but preventable and treatable disease, is caused by bacteria that are widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water, vegetation and the faeces of some animals.
The health department has amended the list of notifiable diseases to now include listeriosis and Motsoaledi has asked environmental health practitioners from municipalities and provinces where positive cases had been reported to investigate and trace the sources of infection.
READ: What is Listeriosis and why is it dangerous
Gauteng still has the most cases of listeriosis, with 442 out of the 727 confirmed cases. The Western Cape was second with 92 confirmed cases.
Motsoaledi has urged anyone who experiences symptoms of listeriosis to seek medical attention immediately. He said the disease can cause meningitis, which is an infection of the brain, and septicaemia, which is an infection of the blood steam. Both can be fatal.
However, he stressed that, while the disease was serious and dangerous, it was treatable with antibiotics.
“If you encounter the symptoms ... please rush to look for medical help. In other words, don’t just assume and sit at home, especially if you get flu-like symptoms now in summer.”
Motsoaledi added that, while anyone can contract the disease, which has a mortality rate of between 20% and 30%, those who have a high risk of developing listeriosis are newborns, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immunity systems, as a result of HIV or cancer.
In December, a Gauteng abattoir had been prohibited from selling meat after samples taken from there tested positive for the listeria pathogen, the Gauteng health department said.
Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa said the abattoir in the Tshwane area was tested after the food sample of a listeriosis patient was traced there.
“Based on the discovery, the prohibition notice has been issued to the abattoir in terms of Regulation 4 (3) of regulations governing the general hygiene for food premises and the transport of food, for preparing food to the identified abattoir,” Ramokgopa said.
The heath department has formally requested food industry stakeholders to report details of listeria positive food items, environmental swabs and listeria isolates.
Clinical listeriosis management guidelines are also available.
Vulnerable categories of people are neonates, babies who are less than 28 days of life, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, for example people living with HIV and Aids, diabetes and chronic diseases such as cancer, kidney and liver disease
Motsoeledi asked all pregnant women in private and public facilities to register on MomConnect using their cellphones by dialing *134*550# to get messages on prevention of listeriosis.
Motsoaledi also advised health workers to be alert of listeriosis whenever they are dealing with pregnant women or neonates
Listeriosis neonates were the worst affected and accounted for close to 40% of the cases. It was clear that the neonates have been infected by their mothers, he said.
The strain for this outbreak is called ST6 and it has been found in all nine provinces – Additional reporting by News24
What are the signs and symptoms?
Listeria can survive in fridge temperatures of 4°C. The infection incubates for between three and 70 days. In healthy adults, symptoms are usually mild and may include fever and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea.
In high-risk patients, the spread of the infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis leading to headaches and confusion, a stiff neck and convulsions. Bacteraemia – when the bacteria is found in the blood – may also occur. - Source: The Conversation