Listeriosis awareness spreads to taxi rank

Dr Nomafrench Mbombo speaks to Xoliswa Lindano, left, and Asanda Jilindis.

Grey scum in gutters, overflowing rubbish bins and no basins in the public toilet are some of what Western Cape MEC of Health Dr Nomafrench Mbombo saw last week while on a visit to Wynberg taxi rank to warn vendors about the outbreak of listeriosis.

The transport interchange is used by thousands of taxi, bus and train commuters every day and Dr Mbombo was shocked by the state it was in. At the railway toilet, an official told her the water had been overflowing for more than six months because “skollies” had stolen the pipes.

Dr Mbombo, her staff and volunteers handed out flyers to vendors and appealed to them to put simple food hygiene measures in place to reduce the risk of listeria infection. Against the noise and press of people, Dr Mbombo told them to wash and keep their hands clean; separate raw and cooked food; cook food thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; and use safe water and raw materials.

Dr Mbombo said symptoms of listeriosis were vague and included diarrhoea, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite.

She said 29 people had died from the disease in the province and 115 confirmed cases have been reported to the provincial communicable disease centre for 2017 and 2018, with 77% percent from the Cape Metro.

“Our staff remain on high alert when patients present corresponding symptoms at our facilities.”

Shops around the transport interchange appear to be on top of their game to keep the listeria bacteria away.

Mia Croy of Frydays, who has viennas and polony on the menu, said it was the food glue that was the problem. All their food items were sourced from a Halaal certified site. “Is the food safe? I eat it myself,” said Ms Croy.

Manny Da Silva of Captain’s, which also sells hot dogs and other fast food, said they imported their meat.

Mareldiah Collins of Atlantic meat Butchery, where signs about listeriosis had been attached to fridges and shelves, said all their meats have been tested.

Vendor Ntombekhaya Ngalo said she bought her Russian sausages from the nearby butcher, and that Dr Mbombo had told her to keep her area clean to keep the germs away.

The national institute of communicable diseases said 948 cases of listeriosis had been confirmed since January 1 last year, leading to the 183 deaths. Dr Mbombo said listeriosis was a disease caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. These bacteria were widely found in soil and water and could contaminate animal products, fruit and vegetables. She said people at high risk of developing the disease include pregnant women and their unborn babies, the elderly, people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease, and those with weakened immune systems due to HIV or chemotherapy.

In severe cases, spread of the infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis, leading to headaches, confusion, stiff neck, loss of balance or convulsions.

Gastro-enteritis due to listeriosis does not usually require treatment. Meningitis due to listeria infection can be treated with antibiotics if treatment is started early.

Dr Mbombo said if anyone experienced such symptoms they should go to their nearest health facility. Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said on Sunday March 4 that the source of the present outbreak of listeriosis had been traced to the Enterprise food production facility in Polokwane. Dr Motsoaledi said tests link the Listeria monocytogenes LST6 strain positively with these supplier manufacturing plants.

The following day Tiger Brands recalled polony, Russians and Viennas and asked people not to throw these items into their rubbish as others could eat them and get sick.

They promised that any Enterprise processed cold meat products and Rainbow Chicken polony in their original packaging could be returned for a full refund. Proof of purchase is not required and opened products can also be returned.

* See Off My Trolley, page 6.