Terror as fatal listeriosis bug showed its hand
"It was terrifying. I have never felt so helpless in my life. You see them lying there crying, asking for help, but there is nothing you can do."
For Celeste Oersen of Klipspruit West, Johannesburg, January 12 was a day she will never forget.
Two of her grandchildren, Riley and Jordan, were among nine toddlers who attended a Soweto crèche who fell ill with listeriosis that day. They contracted it from food they had eaten at crèche.It was there that the source of the killer bacteria was first identified and linked back to the Polokwane Enterprise factory, the outbreak's "ground zero".
On that Friday the nine children - aged two, three and four - had just been given breakfast when they fell violently ill, some vomiting and others with diarrhoea.
Several of them, said their parents, had begun to feel ill the day before, after returning from crèche.
Staff immediately phoned the children's parents, urging those who could to come fetch their little ones.
Gregory Louw was at home just a few blocks away when he got the call to collect his three-year-old son, Quewin.
"When I got there it was chaos. Children were crying. Some were vomiting, others had a fever and some had very upset stomachs."I didn't know what was happening. The principal said I should take my son to the clinic quickly.
"Everything happened so quickly. In the morning when he left for school Quewin was fine, but less than an hour later he was out of it."
He rushed Quewin to Chiawelo Community Clinic, where staff urged him to go to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.
A team of doctors and nurses were on standby at the hospital after receiving the alert.
Oersen said when she reached the clinic Jordan, 4, was on oxygen.
"She was battling to breathe. The nurses and doctors were trying to stabilise her. Riley, who is three, was lying on a bed surrounded by nurses.
"It was terrifying. All the children from the crèche were there.
"It was like a Hollywood movie. There was a special ward. Each child had a doctor and nurse to attend to them. The staff were so prepared."
Oersen said a doctor who was in charge called the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and they immediately sent a team to the crèche. She said an NICD team also went to all of the children's homes.
"They wore special suits. They had all sorts of equipment, which they used to take samples. They looked inside our fridges, dustbins, bathrooms and toilets. They asked us so many funny questions, about what we ate, how often and where we bathed, whether we used a bucket or tub or shower or bath, and whether we bathed inside or outside."..