The City of Johannesburg said it had launched a drive to educate the public on how to prevent the spread of listeriosis. Picture: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Johannesburg - South Africa’s commercial hub of Johannesburg said on Thursday it had launched a drive to educate the public on how to prevent the spread of listeriosis.

Health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, said on Tuesday an outbreak of the disease had killed 36 people this year.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says 557 cases have been reported since January 2017, 345 of them in Gauteng province. Of these, 172 were in Johannesburg, with 8 percent of these cases resulting in death.

Listeriosis is a foodborne illness associated with eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogens, including dairy products and produce, fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as ready-to-eat products.

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“We have activated our environmental health outbreak units to monitor all our food outlets and also assist in educating communities on what steps to take to remain safe,” Johannesburg director of public health Dr Baskie Desai said.

“It is important to tell our people to always take precautionary measures and to avoid certain foods that might cause Listeriosis if not prepared accordingly.” 

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Symptoms are usually mild and may include fever, muscle pain, restlessness and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea. 

The spread of infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis leading to headaches, confusion, stiff neck, loss of balance or convulsions. The presence of bacteria in the blood, also known as bacteraemia may also occur.

The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems.