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Listeria toll nears 1,000 in South Africa; source undetermined

Authorities in South Africa continue to remind the public how to decrease the risk of contracting foodborne Listeria infections amidst an outbreak that has sickened almost 1,000 and killed at least 176.

World health officials have said it is the largest known outbreak from Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Public health officials have not yet been able to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak, which has been ongoing for several months. However, several government agencies have repeatedly urged the public to follow good hygiene practices and cook foods thoroughly.

As of this week, the Centre for Enteric Diseases and Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response, the Outbreak Response Unit, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases/National Health Laboratory Service joined in reporting 945 illnesses, with 202 of those cases occurring since the first of this year.

Ages of the sick people range from birth to 92 years old. Of the neonatal cases, 94 percent had symptom onset less than six days after birth. In pregnant women, Listeria monocytogenes infections can cross through the placenta or be transferred to babies during birth.

Most of the infections, 59 percent, have been reported from Gauteng Province, followed by Western Cape with 12 percent and KwaZulu-Natal with 7 percent.

Public health agencies continue to advise that processed, ready-to-eat meat products, soft cheeses, and unpasteurized milk and dairy products should be avoided, especially by people in high risk groups. High risk groups include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with weakened immune systems.

Processed ready-to-eat meat products specifically named include viennas, polonies, russians, ham, “cold” meats, sausages, various corned meats, salami, pepperoni and similar products. If these products must be eaten, the public is urged to thoroughly cook them in boiling water or heat them at high temperatures of 70 degrees C or higher.

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