Listeriosis symptoms in South Africa

Listeriosis symptoms in South Africa

Do you have a crazy liking for processed meat? If so then it’s time to think twice before dropping that pork, beef or chicken product in your shopping basket . Failure to take caution might just add you to the list of those battling listeriosis symptoms in South Africa. Since the year 2017, South Africa has been contending with an ongoing and probably the world’s most serious listeriosis outbreak. So bad was the scourge that by March 2018, there were 973 established infections where listeriosis South Africa claimed 183 lives.

listeriosis symptoms in south africa
listeriosis south africa
symptoms of listeriosis in south africa
listeriosis south africa symptoms

READ ALSO: Listeriosis outbreak: Everything you need to know

What is listeriosis in South Africa today?

Listeriosis is a life threatening bacterial infection which is caused by listeria monocytogenes. Listeria monocytogenes bacterium is rod shaped and is usually spread when one eats food that has the bacterium. You are at a high risk of contracting this disease if you expose yourself to the following:

  • Unpasteurized cheese or milk
  • Uncooked meat
  • Raw vegetables
  • Processed foods
  • Fish products ( Smoked )

So far it is generally accepted that you cannot be infected by simply coming in contact with a sick person. However, it is possible for a pregnant woman to pass on the bacteria to her unborn child

Listeria can cause severe or mild gastroenteritis while individuals with a compromised immune system are likely to develop septicemia or meningitis. Listeriosis in pregnant women can lead to miscarriage, premature birth or meningitis that can permanently disable a child.

Thanks to doctors Steve Biko and Chris Hani who in July 2017 identified Signs of listeriosis and alerted the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) regarding the meteoric rise of neonatal infections . On interviewing those who exhibited symptoms of listeriosis, all signs pointed to cold processed meats especially polony as the probable cause of the disease. The Enterprise Foods Facility in Polokwane would soon be identified as the origin of the outbreak after a diagnosis on several 5 year old kids from Soweto at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. They all manifested clear Listeriosis south Africa symptoms

listeriosis symptoms in south africa
listeriosis south africa
symptoms of listeriosis in south africa
listeriosis south africa symptoms

READ ALSO: Cyriliosis Ramapolony & White Monopolony: People's Bae calls on Mzansi to give Listeriosis nickname

Who is at risk?

Listeria thrives in our environment for example in water and soil. Therefore vegetables and animals can easily be contaminated putting human consumers at risk. However groups of people that stand a higher risk of infection include

  • The elderly - 65 years and above
  • Pregnant women
  • Unborn children
  • Those whose immune system has been weakened by Cancer, kidney or liver disease and diabetes.
  • People who abuse alcohol and drugs

Symptoms of Listeriosis in South Africa

Listeria is able to survive at 4 degrees Centigrade fridge temperatures and has an incubation period of between 3 to seventy days. Healthy adults usually exhibit mild symptoms which manifests in diarrhea, nausea or fever. Patients who exhibit gastroenteritis may not worry too much about treatment but septicaemia or meningitis caused by listeria must be countered by strong antibiotics owing to their life threatening nature.

Listeriosis signs and symptoms usually develop after some days or even weeks after eating contaminated food. They may include

  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Seizures

Prevention of listeriosis

Listeriosis can easily be prevented by

  • Thoroughly washing vegetables and fruits
  • Washing utensils , surfaces and hands after coming in contact with uncooked foods
  • Thoroughly cooking meat
  • Keeping your refrigerator temperature under 4 degrees Centigrade
  • Separating raw meats from green vegetables
  • Regularly cleaning your refrigerator
  • Using precooked meat products before they expire
  • Shunning unpasteurized milk products

People with compromised immune systems should avoid eating lunch meats or hot dogs; ready meat spreads soft cheeses and smoked seafood.


Your doctor will most likely run a blood test to see whether you are listeria positive. In other cases samples of your spinal fluid or urine will be examined as well.


Treatment is quite varied and is largely dependent on the intensity of manifesting signs and symptoms. Mild Listeriosis in South Africa symptoms don’t really require treatment but more critical ones should be treated using antibiotics. For example an affected pregnant woman should promptly be put on antibiotics to hold the infection away from the baby. Already infected newborns should receive a combined dose of antibiotics as prescribed

Why is it getting worse?

South Africa’s first case of Listeriosis was documented in 1977. In a period of 8 months, fourteen cases were isolated in Johannesburg area alone. Thereafter, several other cases have been reported all across the country. For instance, from January to September 2015, over 6 people were diagnosed at a health facility in Western Cape Province. In 2017, at least 557 cases were reported and confirmed across the country particularly in South Africa’s least yet highly populated province of Gauteng. Since January 2017 the occurrence ratio in Gauteng shot up from 2 cases per million to 8 cases in every million. Close to 36% of these statistics capture newborn babies who get infected and manifest within the first week after birth.

listeriosis symptoms in south africa
listeriosis south africa
symptoms of listeriosis in south africa

Listeriosis symptoms in South Africa statistics
Source: Getty Images

Challenges of combating Listeria symptoms South Africa

Listeria symptoms South Africa have become common with time and in every case, it is usually difficult to pin point the real source of the disease. The 70 day incubation period makes it practically hard to know what food the victim ate and examine the contaminated foodstuff.

Also once the particular food source is identified, multiple tests need to be done to establish the exact one. This takes time and hard work.

READ ALSO: "Drastic measures" against Listeriosis: Recalls called against manufacturers Rainbow chicken and Enterprise foods

While Listeriosis in South Africa symptoms are life threatening, much has been done by the government to reverse its spread. After a recall of the products in question, reports of the disease have significantly reduced. However more cases could be reported because of

  1. The 70 day incubation period
  2. Some of the recalled products may not have left the shelves yet
  3. Cross contamination may continue at home and retail outlets ,

There is no pre-exposure prophylaxis or vaccine to prevent listeriosis infection. You can only stay safe by maintaining proper basic hygiene. Ensure that your food, fruits and vegetables are hygienically prepared and stored and always be on the look out for listeriosis symptoms in South Africa.


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