Panic over Listeriosis outbreak

Panic over Listeriosis outbreak

MASERU – SUPERMARKETS in Lesotho this week pulled cold meat products from shelves amid fears of a disease outbreak and public panic.
They were taking a cue from South African shops that withdrew the products last week following the discovery of Listeria bacteria in cold meats like polony, viennas and Russian sausages.

What is known so far is that the bacteria that causes Listeriosis has been traced to an Enterprise Production plant in Polokwane.
Another Enterprise factory in Germiston has also tested positive for the same bacteria but scientists are still trying to figure out the strain.
To date 180 Listeriosis-related deaths have been reported in South Africa where laboratory tests have confirmed 948 cases of the disease. Its mortality rate so far is 27 percent, meaning one in every three it infects is likely to die.

Although Listeriosis can affect everyone, the infection rate is higher among pregnant women, children, old people as well as those with compromised immune systems. In pregnant mothers it can lead to premature birth, stillbirth, miscarriage or children with permanent disabilities. It can affect the nervous system to cause meningitis, headache, stiff neck and loss of balance.

The symptoms can take as much as 30 days to manifest.
The bacteria continue to multiply in refrigerated foods. Food contaminated with listeria bacteria does not look or smell bad.
The first case of the disease that causes flu-like symptoms was discovered in June 2017 but South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has been battling to trace its source.

A breakthrough in recent days has triggered action among government officials and alarm among customers.
Worsening the anxiety is that cold meats are a significant part of the lunchboxes most parents pack for their children. Part of the apprehension comes from the fact that most people do not know which cold meats to avoid.

So far bacteria had not been linked to other brands like Eskort, Champion, Econo, Sky Country, Pick ‘n Pay’s No Name and Shoprite’s Rite Brand. But that has however not helped calm nerves.

’Mampolokeng Thobela, who said she depends on processed meats for daily lunch boxes of her three grandchildren, told thepost that “the safest measure I take is staying away from these meats”.

“I’m told that we the elderly and small children will get sick if we eat Russians and polonies. They told me their names but to me they are all the same,” Thobela said.

Hlalefang Molapo, a customer, said she had already bought them in bulk for her husband and her granddaughter who is in pre-school.
“I gave them to my dogs after I heard from the radio that they were dangerous,” Molapo said. “I don’t know which brands they were. I only know that they were Russians.”

Mohato Ntita, a vendor who sells processed meats, said his business had crumbled since the outbreak was announced.
“I have regular customers who come to me for the supply of viennas which I stock in bulk in South Africa,” Ntita said.
“I have received several phone calls from customers stopping the orders. To them it does not matter that I don’t buy the brands that are contaminated with this disease. As long as they are processed meats, to them they are hazardous.”
Health Minister Nkaku Kabi said following the outbreak the department of Disease Control sensitized the public about the symptoms of the disease and how best they could handle the processed meat products.

Kabi said they will deploy officers to collect the contaminated food from shops across the country.
He said since this will not happen immediately they have opted to warn people not to eat those foods through the media. The minister said they have not yet received death reports of people who have died of the disease in the country.

“We will roll out our campaign to our ports of entry at the border gates so that such foods do not enter the country,” Kabi said.
Big shops like Pick ’n Pay and Shoprite have already removed such products from their shelves.
Meanwhile, Pick’n Pay franchisee Lesotho, Samuel Mphana, said following an official announcement they removed all the products from their shelves.

Mphana said bags of those food stuffs were sealed and are now ready to be disposed.
“We are waiting for Maseru City Council (MCC) with its expertise to guide us on how we can dispose of these food stuffs,” Mphana said.
He said the law says it is only the MCC’s department of environmental health that can decide what to do with the food.
Mphana said they were yet to quantify their loss.

Mphana said people who have bought the food stuffs from their shop could bring receipts for refunds.
He however said the other brands not been associated with Listeriosis, including their No Name, remain on sale.
Shoprite, Lesotho’s biggest grocer, has also removed Enterprise’s products from the shelves.

Also several Basotho and Asian-owned shops that thepost visited had removed all Enterprise and Rainbow processed meats from their shelves.
Symptoms usually develop 3 to 70 days (commonly three weeks) after eating contaminated food. Death is extremely rare in healthy people, but more common in newborns, the very old or in people with weakened immune systems.

l Healthy adults and children sometimes become infected but the illness is usually mild and people recover with no treatment. Symptoms of listeriosis in healthy people can include fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea.
l Women who develop listeriosis during pregnancy will have a similar mild illness but the infection may affect the baby, leading to premature delivery, stillbirth or infection of the newborn.

l Listeriosis in the elderly and those with weakened immune systems can develop into a more serious illness involving the blood or nervous system. Symptoms in these people can include fever, headache, stiff neck, convulsions and/or loss of balance.

How is listeriosis diagnosed?
A blood test is the most common test to diagnose listeriosis. Testing is only recommended if you are sick with symptoms of listeria, regardless of if you have eaten food that may have been contaminated.

Is there treatment?

Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. Prompt treatment of pregnant women with symptoms of listeriosis can prevent infection in the baby. Antibiotic treatment is not recommended if you do not have symptoms.

How to protect your family from listeriosis?
l Cook meat, fish, poultry and eggs thoroughly.
l Keep foods out of the “Danger Zone” (between 4°C and 60°C). Keep refrigerators at 4°C or colder, and refrigerate food promptly.
l Wash fruits and vegetables well before cooking or eating.

l Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods. Use separate utensils for raw and cooked foods.
l Wash all food preparation surfaces that have come in contact with raw meat and then sanitize with a mild bleach-water solution.
l Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food and after touching raw foods.
l Eat perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible after purchasing. Follow “Best Before” dates, especially on packaged foods with a long shelf life.
l Drink only pasteurized milk and foods made from pasteurized milk.

What else?

l Only eat hot dogs, luncheon meats or deli meats that have been reheated until steaming hot (74ºC).
l Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after touching hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats.

l Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie and Camembert; blue-veined cheeses; or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco and panela.
l Avoid refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
l Avoid refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole.

Majara Molupe and ’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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