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Basotho warned of SA listeriosis risk

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Ministry of Health has warned Basotho travelling to South Africa of the outbreak of listeriosis, a food-borne disease that has so far claimed 36 lives in the neighbouring country.

So far, a total 557 cases, mostly from Gauteng Province, have been reported and 70 of them are in the serious category.

Listeriosis is a serious bacterial infection caused by the rod-shaped bacteria listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis is suffered when food contaminated with the micro-organism is eaten.

These bacteria are found in soil, water and vegetation. Listeriosis can also occur in some animals, including poultry and cattle. Raw milk and foods made from raw milk can also carry the bacteria.

The Ministry of Health last week issued a statement advising all Basotho to exercise caution when they travel to South Africa.

“The public is advised to take precautionary measures on the consumption of milk and milk products such as unpasteurised milk and soft cheeses; ensure they eat well cleaned vegetables; avoid readily dried meat and other ready to eat meats; smoked fish products; and wash their hands with soap,” the International Health Regulations Manager Khotso Mahomo said in a statement.

He further explained that the signs and symptoms in healthy adults were usually mild and may include fever, nausea, muscle pain, restlessness and mild to severe infectious diarrhoea (gastroenteritis).

Mr Mahomo explained that listeriosis is usually diagnosed when a bacterial culture grows Listeria monocytogenes from a body tissue or fluid, such as blood, spinal fluid, or the placenta.

“However, meningitis or septicaemia as a result of listeria can be life-threatening and should be treated with intravenous antibiotics,” he said.

The infection grows between three and 70 days with a case-fatality rate of around 20-30 percent in recent outbreaks and sporadic cases.

In pregnant women, Mr Mahomo said listeriosis can result in a miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, meningitis in the new-born, leading to permanent disability.

He said the spread of the infection in high-risk patients to the nervous system could cause meningitis leading to headaches and confusion, a stiff neck and convulsions or septicaemia.

Mr Mahomo said all people who travelled to affected places, or who may have the signs and symptoms indicated should immediately seek health services from their nearest health facility. They should also provide clear travel and consumption history.

 What you should know


People should seek medical attention if they experience the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • A stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • General weakness
  • Vomiting (sometimes preceded by diarrhoea)


The majority of people infected by listeria recover within seven days. However, those with a compromised immune system, older adults, infants or pregnant women require urgent medical care – treatment involves either a course of antibiotics or fluids through an IV drip.

The treatment of listeriosis is usually symptomatic and depends on the severity of the disease. If your infection is severe, antibiotics may be recommended.

Home remedies include:

  • Plenty of clear fluids such as water and tea
  • The BRATdiet (bananas, rice, apple sauce, toast) and other bland foods that won’t irritate the stomach
  • Bed rest


  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk. Also, be careful of foods that contain raw milk.
  • Practice good hygiene in the kitchen.Wash your hands regularly, and make sure cutting boards, cutlery and crockery are cleaned properly.
  • Thoroughly cook animal foods such as meat, poultry or fish. Rather overcook than undercook.
  • Keep an eye on the expiry dates of perishable foods. Consume as soon as possible.

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