Public health officials in a city in Chile have issued a warning after detecting several Listeria infections linked to food.

The Regional Ministerial Secretariat of Health (SEREMI) for Coquimbo reported there had been a recent increase in the region and urged caution to prevent further infections.

Of six cases detected, at least three have been linked to eating contaminated food. The agency gave no further details about those sick.

Seremi de Salud, Alejandro García, said it was important to keep dairy products and cured meats refrigerated, follow recommendations made by the manufacturer, and discard any expired products.

García added that vulnerable people such as newborns, those more than 60 years old, pregnant women and adults with chronic diseases, should not consume raw or undercooked fish, meat or sausages; pate, cheese spread or ham sold in bulk, unwashed vegetables and foods of unknown origin or bought in informal settings.

Health officials also advised people to wash hands before and after handling food and wash kitchen surfaces and utensils in contact with so-called risky foods before using them, avoid cross contamination by keeping raw and cooked foods separate and regularly clean the refrigerator.

Wider situation
In the past decade, Listeria monocytogenes has emerged as a foodborne pathogen of major importance in Chile, according to a study published in the Food Microbiology journal in 2020.

Listeriosis has been a reportable disease in Chile since 2005. In 2008 and 2009, two large outbreaks occurred, associated with eating soft cheese and sausages or meat products.

Since then there has been a slight increase in sporadic infections. According to official data, the number of reported cases between 2015 and 2018 was 75, 65, 83, and 97, respectively, with a mortality rate between 20 percent and 25 percent.

Another study, published in the same year but in the journal Microorganisms, looked at the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in artisanal ready-to-eat (RTE) foods in Chile.

Of 400 analyzed samples, 30 were positive for Listeria including prepared meals and dishes, pre-processed fruit and vegetables, and cooked meats. Minimally processed RTE artisanal foods such as cooked meats and pre-processed fruit had the highest counts.

About Listeria infections
Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still cause serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. Anyone who has developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical treatment and tell their doctors about the possible Listeria exposure.

Also, people should monitor themselves for food poisoning symptoms during the coming weeks because it can take up to 70 days after exposure to Listeria for symptoms of listeriosis to develop.

Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose Listeria infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people such as cancer patients who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illnesses, life-threatening infections, and other complications. Although infected pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, their infections can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

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