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New information out of South Africa shows 1,053 people have been confirmed with Listeria infections in the past 18 months. One in five has died in what the World Health Organization has determined to be the largest listeriosis outbreak in recorded history.

Infants in their first month of life have been harder hit than any other age group in the outbreak. Of the infants who are 28 days or younger, for whom complete information is available, 91 have died. Overall, at least 212 people have died in the outbreak. Officials do not yet have final reports on all of the sick people, so there could easily be additional deaths confirmed.

Public health investigators traced the outbreak to Tiger Brand’s ready-to-eat polony, which is similar to baloney and hot dogs, that was produced at Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility. 

During the peak period of the outbreak, from late October 2017 through March this year, health officials often confirmed more than 30 new cases per week. Some weeks more than 40 new people were found to have infections from Listeria monocytogenes.

Prior to 2017, health officials recorded less than two cases per week, for an average of 60 to 80 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases per year in the country. 

The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) began investigating the situation in July 2017 when increases in laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis were reported. On Dec. 5, 2017, Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi declared the outbreak.

A recall of Tiger Brand’s polony was initiated March 4. By mid-April, the number of new cases per week had dropped to five or less.

Highlights of the most recent report from South African public health officials include:

  • 1,053 cases confirmed from Jan. 1, 2017, through June 20 this year;
  • Neonates younger than 28 days are the most affected age group;
  • People aged 15 to 49 years old are the second most affected age group; and
  • Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province at 58 percent of all cases, followed by Western Cape with 13 percent, and KwaZulu-Natal with 8 percent.