THE World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday warned Nigeria and 15 other African countries of a listeriosis outbreak that started in South Africa in 2017, confirming its support for their preparedness and response to the disease.
The other African countries are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
South African health authorities recently declared the source of the outbreak as a factory in Polokwane, South Africa. This prompted a national and international recall of the food products.
However, in light of the potentially long incubation period of listeriosis and the challenges relating to large-scale nationwide recall processes, further cases are likely to occur.
Namibia has reported one confirmed case of listeriosis, a man who was admitted to hospital in early March. An investigation is ongoing to determine whether the case is connected to the outbreak in South Africa.
Listeriosis is a foodborne illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes. It can be in a variety of raw foods as well as in processed foods and foods made from unpasteurized milk. Unlike many other germs, listeria can grow even in the cold temperature of the refrigerator.
Common symptoms of listeriosis include fever and muscle aches, often preceded by diarrhoea. Other symptoms include a headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, convulsions and sometimes even death.
Certain people are at increased risk, including pregnant women, newborns, people with AIDS or other conditions that impair immunity, and people with cancer, diabetes, alcoholism or liver or kidney disease.
WHO in a statement said that it has reached out to 16 countries to help with preparedness and response to the listeriosis outbreak that has killed nearly 200 people since January 2017.
According to the agency, contaminated meat products may have been exported to two West African countries and 14 members of the South African Development Community.
Despite an international recall of the products, further cases are likely because of listeriosis’ potentially long incubation period, WHO said.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa declared: “This outbreak is a wake-up call for countries in the region to strengthen their national food safety and disease surveillance systems.”
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