Earlier this month, South Africa confirmed that it is experiencing an outbreak of listeriosis. So far, 36 people have died from the infection, with over 500 confirmed cases.
But what is listeriosis?
Listeriosis is an old infection that doctors have studied for decades. Within recent years, it has become more prevalent in animals and humans within the past 60 years.
At first, scientists believed that listeriosis was in animals, but this was only partially true.
Listeriosis is a bacterium that is found in soil. The animals graze on the grasses and weeds, ingesting the bacteria. They are then butchered and sent to the grocery stores where unsuspecting consumers buy contaminated foods.
Now, listeriosis has spread to the public because they are consuming these meats that harbor the bacteria.
People who ingest the contaminated food often complain of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, confusion and fatigue. Severe cases can create far worse issues like infections in the bloodstream and brain. Because of the bacterium’s extended incubation period, symptoms can take time before showing. Listeriosis can take anywhere from three days to two months before showing signs of infection.
A blood test usually confirms the diagnosis, but sometimes a urine test or a spinal tap are ordered by the physician. The spinal tap is necessary because the doctor wants to draw out your spinal fluid and test it. Analyzing this fluid is crucial to show the infection’s affect on other areas of your body.
Usually, an individual’s immune system will be strong enough to fight the bacterial infection on its own. In severe cases, a physician will prescribe an antibiotic. In these cases, the illness will last for a couple of weeks.
So, how can this illness be prevented? Especially when traveling in a foreign country, avoid the following foods and take these precautionary measures:
- Purchase foods from local markets whenever possible and eat within the food within two days.
- Avoid raw, unpasteurized dairy, including unpasteurized cheeses and yogurts.
- Wash all produce with a stiff bristle brush and a natural cleanser, such as baking soda and lemon juice. Also disinfect cutting boards with similar non-toxic cleaners.
- Keep raw meats, fruits, and vegetables stored in separate airtight containers. The listeriosis bacterium can grow in the cold climate of the refrigerator, spreading to other foods.
- Avoid processed deli meats, refrigerated pate’ and other meat spreads, as well as smoked seafood.
- Thoroughly cook the meats, seafood and poultry and use a meat thermometer to ensure the food is done.
- Wash hands before preparing meals.
- Wash utensils with soap and very hot water.
- If you chose to eat processed meats, like deli meats, heat them before eating.
- When eating at a local restaurant, make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly.
- Don’t use the same cutting board or knife to prepare the raw meat and vegetables. If you do use the same cutting board and cutlery, make sure to wash them before preparing the vegetables.
- Refrigerate or freeze foods within 2 hours of preparation. Discard leftovers after four days.
Following these simple tips will not only protect you from listeriosis but diseases like typhoid and cholera that also spread through food. These measures may be inconvenient, but a necessary precaution to ensure a safe and healthy trip.
Any other questions about listeriosis or this outbreak? Let us know in the comments, or via Facebook and Twitter.
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.