A South African woman has spoken out about how her newborn baby spent the first 12 days of his life in hospital because of a Listeria infection that was part of the country’s largest ever outbreak.

The listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and was declared over in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and 218 deaths. It was traced in March 2018 to a ready-to-eat processed meat product, similar to baloney and called polony, made at a plant in Polokwane run by Enterprise Foods, which at that time was owned by multinational Tiger Brands.

Phumzile Banze fell ill in March 2018 and had to have her first child by an emergency C-section.

“I used to pray a lot. I would say to others affected by the outbreak that they should put their hope in the hands of God because I lost hope that my son would live seeing that people were dying because of this outbreak. I was so excited to have him in my life but this outbreak didn’t allow me to have the chance to celebrate my newborn. His hair was cut off. I didn’t get to enjoy him that much for the first few days of his life.”

Sibusiso, who is now 3 years old, had to go hospital for check-ups until he was aged 1 but has since made a full recovery.

Almost lost their first child
Phumzile said she started feeling sick while pregnant.

Sibusiso in hospital in 2018

“I had diarrhea and I used to collapse but I didn’t know it was Listeria. I had pains so I went to the local clinic but they told me the baby was not due. I went back home and stayed home a week or two before going to the hospital,” said the 24-year-old.

“When they looked they said the baby’s heartrate was beating slowly and I was about to lose the baby. So I had to rush for an emergency C-section. When he arrived, the baby went to ICU. I gave birth on March 21 then I started to see the baby after March 23. When I arrived the baby was not breathing well, the moment I gave him milk he was better but when I asked the doctors they didn’t tell me what it was.

“Luckily I found a doctor who explained to me that he had an infection in the brain. The infection was now starting to spread to the whole body. They took blood to the lab and tested it. They found it was Listeria so they had to put him on a drip for him to get antibiotics.

“For 12 days he stayed at the hospital so I used to go and visit him each and every day. I was discharged on March 23 so I didn’t get any treatment for Listeria. My son was at the hospital for the first 12 days of his life.”

The stay-at-home mum was with her family and partner, Bongani, in Gauteng, Johannesburg at the time of the incident.

“I used to crave Kota (a type of South African sandwich) and buy them a lot. One day I didn’t have money so I told my partner Bongani to come with polony and when he came back with it I used to eat it. We didn’t take it seriously about this outbreak. I had never heard of Listeria. I never used to watch the news so every time when I have craved Kota I would go and buy it because it has Russians, polony and viennas. I used to eat it by itself, a week didn’t go by without me eating Kota. Now, I don’t eat polony anymore.”

Phumzile said she doesn’t plan too much for the future but hopes to stay happy and healthy together with her family as the couple now also have a 4-month-old baby girl.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)