On 8 January 2018, the Minister of Health, dr Aaron Motsoaledi gave an update on the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa as reported by the Department of Health on 5 December 2017. Also present at the press conference were representatives of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), World Health Organization (WHO), Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Trade and Industry (Dti).

Lees dit in Afrikaans. 

Outbreak statistics

  • There have been 727 laboratory-confirmed cases that occurred in the country since January 2017.
  • There were 557 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases by November 2017.
  • Since 5 December 2017, a total of 170 new cases emerged.
  • 119 new cases occurred since the last press conference.
  • A total of 51 had already occurred before 5 December 2017 and data was captured retrospectively.
  • By 5 December 2017, 36 people passed on due to listeriosis. By now 61 have passed on.
  • Out of the total of 727 laboratory-confirmed cases, only 134 actual patients (18%) could be traced.
  • Gauteng has the highest number of confirmed listeriosis cases with 442 out of the total 727 tests (61%) being confirmed here.
  • The Western Cape is second with 13%.
  • KwaZulu Natal is third with 7%.

Updates on note

Dr Motsoaledi stated that since 5 December 2017, the Department of Health amended the list of notifiable diseases to include listeriosis. Prior to this outbreak, listeriosis was not a notifiable condition. He also explained that to scientifically trace the source of the outbreak of listeria monocytogenes, a whole genome sequencing (WGS) analysis has been done by the NICD.

The ST6 strain of listeriosis has been identified in all nine provinces, which supports the current working hypothesis of a single source of food contamination causing the outbreak. This could be a single widely consumed food product or multiple food products produced at a single facility.

In December 2017 Environmental Health Practitioners from the City of Tshwane investigated a Tshwane patient hospitalised with listeriosis and found chicken that tested positive for listeria monocytogenes. The chicken was traced back to the store and abattoir it was sourced from (Sovereign Foods).

The Environmental Health Practitioners visited the abattoir and collected food and environmental samples, several of which tested positive for listeria monocytogenes. The abattoir was served with a prohibition notice pending further investigation. It can, however, not be confirmed whether Sovereign Foods is the source of the present outbreak. This abattoir was closed two months ago by DAFF following the discovery of unhygienic conditions and practices.

Moving forward

According to dr Motsoaledi work has commenced on the implementation of a plan for inspection of food processing facilities, including packaging at distribution plants for bigger retailers. These will be inspected by Environmental Health Practitioners in the provinces most affected (Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal). The results will be used to guide public health interventions for listeriosis prevention and control.

In a recent press release by the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) urged that testing be stepped up not only on locally produced chicken, but also on imported frozen chicken that is thawed, handled, sold as ‘loose serve’ and also when re-packed locally. –Press release

For more information see the links below:

NICD Situation Report on Listeriosis Outbreak, South Africa (3 Jan).

The Red Meat Industry Forum press release on Listeriosis and the red meat industry.

SAPA press release on Listeriosis.