Over the past year, South Africa has seen a sharp rise in listeria cases.
Reuters reported that since January 2017, there have been over 900 confirmed cases of the deadly disease. The South African government has also reported that 180 people have died due to this illness.
The World Health Organization recently called this the world’s worst listeria outbreak.
Listeria is a foodborne bacterial disease, and is found in many of the different foods that you eat. Once it enters your body, the disease travels through the digestive system and into the circulatory system, or bloodstream. From there, the bacteria are prone to multiply in the central nervous system.
On March 5, officials stated that the outbreak came from tainted processed meats. The authorities then ordered a recall of the meats and issued a warning against eating the food.
According to the BBC, neighboring countries are also trying to stay free of the outbreak. Officials in Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and Malawi are monitoring or banning imports from South Africa.
Listeria is a very dangerous illness because it invades your healthy cells and poisons them, leading to cell damage. Unfortunately, your body cannot eliminate these poisons and they remain inside your body, causing you to become sick.
So, what does this mean for travelers to South Africa? While a visit is possible, travelers should be prepared for the chances of listeria.
People with weak immune systems are the most vulnerable to the disease, along with children and pregnant women.
Because it weakens your immune system, those other deadly illnesses become a much higher risk. This can come in the form of meningitis or a brain infection.
Because of their higher risk, pregnant women need to be especially mindful during an outbreak. Any tainted food could harm both the woman and their unborn baby.
Some of the symptoms of listeria are diarrhea, achy muscles, fever, and nausea. In severe cases, the symptoms are a loss of balance, headache, confusion, a stiff neck, and some symptoms that resemble a stroke. If you experience any of these signs, it means that listeria may have invaded your central nervous system.
The good news is that listeria is treated with antibiotics and it is also preventable.
It is necessary that people take every precaution to avoid getting the disease. Some precautionary measures suggested by the CDC include:
- Wash hands after preparing hot dogs and deli meats and keep the meat juice away from other foods and food surfaces.
- Store these meats in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. If the meats are unopened, and you do not use them within two weeks, discard contents. If you opened the deli meat, eat it within 3-5 days of purchase. Hot dogs are good for up to seven days after they are opened.
- Avoid eating refrigerated smoked seafood, like smoked salmon. Canned seafood, even stored at room temperature, is acceptable, but not smoked seafood that is in the cold cases by the deli or fish department of the store.
- Avoid drinking raw milk and cheeses, especially soft cheeses made with raw milk.
- Eat melons within a week after purchasing it and keep it refrigerated. Don’t let the melon sit out for more than four hours. If left out beyond this point, throw it away. If you buy a cut melon, be sure to put it in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
While the listeria outbreak is serious, this isn’t the only health issue in South Africa posing a risk to locals and travelers. Cape Town is in the midst of a water crisis. The popular destination is expected to run out of water within the next few months.
Written for Passport Health by Sabrina Cortes. Sabrina is a freelance writer with a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgian Court University. She currently lives in the Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina.