Listeriosis outbreak difficult to manage‚ Ramokgopa admits

13 February 2018 - 15:52
By Penwell Dlamini
Gwen Ramokgopa. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Foto24/Lisa Hnatowicz) Gwen Ramokgopa. File photo.

Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa has admitted it is difficult for the provincial government to manage the spread of listeriosis in the province.

On Tuesday‚ Ramokgopa presented a report to the Gauteng portfolio committee on health detailing plans to deal with the spread of listeriosis.

She told the committee that a number of teams had been set up, guided by specialists and experts from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the World Health Organisation, to deal with the spread of listeriosis.

Ramokgopa admitted it had been hard trying to contain the spread of the disease.

“It is not as easy as management of a measles outbreak. With measles, we ... were able to contain [the outbreak] within a limited period of time,” she said.

"But this one has been really difficult and that is why we are working with the agriculture sector to make sure there are no possible areas of risk and infection. Gauteng is also heavily affected because of the fact that it is a referral centre.”

On December 5‚ Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi announced an outbreak of listeriosis in the country. At the time, there were 36 recorded deaths nationally from listeriosis‚ of which 27 were in Gauteng.

Last week‚ the death toll from the listeriosis outbreak topped 100 - the worst documented listeriosis outbreak in global history.

The NICD has now announced that the number of confirmed cases is 852 and 107 people have died. The mortality rate - based on data for 355 cases - is now 30%.

Of those confirmed cases‚ 42% were babies less than a month old or pregnant women, who are 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than other healthy adults.

Contracted via the consumption of food containing the listeria pathogen‚ listeriosis is the most deadly of food-borne diseases. The mortality rate in other documented outbreaks has been up to one in four.

The source of the outbreak - thought to be a food product or range of products from one company - remains unknown.

Most cases - 59% - have been reported in Gauteng‚ with 13% in the Western Cape and 7% in KwaZulu-Natal. Roughly two-thirds of cases have confirmed in state hospitals and a third in private hospitals.

In its report, the Gauteng department of health said the following was being done to deal with listeriosis:

  • a provincial joint operation committee and sub-committees have been established to coordinate the response;
  • a communicable disease control WhatsApp chat group on listeriosis was established for officials;
  • frequently asked questions and guidelines on management of listeriosis have been circulated to all relevant practitioners in the province;
  • regular weekly NICD updates on the outbreak are being forwarded to all relevant practitioners in Gauteng;
  • a case management workshop on listeriosis was held from October 19 to 20 last year at the Birchwood Hotel, which was attended by doctors and infection control nurses;
  • home visits were conducted in confirmed cases to collect food and water samples for microbial testing;
  • random sampling and testing of cases from butcheries‚ abattoirs‚ food processing plants continue to be conducted; and
  • pregnant women receive regular salient messages through the Mom Connect app.

There was also a national conference on listeriosis on February 1 to discuss prevention and control of the outbreak.