The World Health Organisation has said South Africa’s Listeria outbreak, with nearly 750 confirmed cases, is believed to be the largest-ever outbreak of the bacterial disease listeriosis. The second largest outbreak of listeriosis was in 2011, when the United States had a total of 147 reported cases. Prior to that, Italy had a large occurrence in 1997. Listeriosis is a serious, but preventable and treatable disease caused by the bacterium, listeria monocytogenes, which is found in soil, water, vegetation and some animal faeces. Animal products, including meat and dairy; seafood; and fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables, can all be contaminated. “Infants are often a high target of this bacteria,” said Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organisation, adding that “newborns are about 40% of the infected people”. Lindmeier said the three-week incubation period makes it difficult to establish the source and thus, tough to prevent. “You wouldn’t know what you ate three weeks ago – maybe the one particular food that made you sick three or four weeks later – this is the big challenge we face in this situation,” he said. Lindmeier said South Africans were called upon to practice WHO’s “Five Keys to Safer Food” programme that included washing hands before and often during food preparation; separating raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods; and cooking foods thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.

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