A new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has sparked fears that Botswana may be among countries sitting on a major public health hazard because the country imports products from South Africa which may have resulted in an ongoing outbreak of the deadly listeriosis.
The outbreak of the food borne disease has been ongoing in South Africa since 2017 resulting in the death of 183 patients out of 674 cases.
According to the WHO report, despite the fact that no cases of the disease have been reported in Botswana, it takes a long incubation period for the diseases to be detected suggesting that a potential outbreak is ongoing.
The report states that the countries that are likely to be hit hard by an outbreak of listeriosis are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The report states that the food processing company and three of its retailers export to these 15 countries in the African region.
All of these countries have issued recalls for the implicated products. Environmental samples from other food production companies in South Africa have also tested positive for Listeria but with strains different from the outbreak strain.
“These companies have also issued food recalls. Some of their products have been exported to some of the countries mentioned above,” the report says.
It further states that “Nine percent of the reported cases in the present outbreak in South Africa were infected with different strains of Listeria than the predominant ST6 outbreak strain. This may indicate that more than one outbreak is ongoing. Comprehensive investigations to identify the source of infection of these cases should be conducted.”
The report notes that globally, this (outbreak in South Africa) is the largest outbreak of listeriosis that has been detected.
“Due to the potentially long incubation period of listeriosis (one to three weeks and up to 70 days) further cases are expected before the impact of the food recall is observed. Following the identification of the source of this outbreak, WHO is now concerned that the export of implicated products may have resulted in listeriosis cases in other countries, “the report says.
The report says detailed information on the implicated product batches exported to each of the identified 15 countries should be shared with WHO and the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) Secretariat. This will help to facilitate efficient recalls of these products.
Recently, Namibia reported a confirmed case of listeriosis.
“It is important that this case and other possible cases be properly investigated and the implicated food sources identified. The isolated Listeria strains should be sequenced to determine potential links to the outbreak in South Africa,” the report says.
It says some of the named countries among them Botswana, may not have well-established surveillance systems and laboratory diagnostic services in place to detect cases of listeriosis.
“In such cases, WHO is ready to provide support and has reached out to 16 African nations (two West African countries and 14 members of SADC) to provide support for preparedness and response.
An increase in public concern about the outbreak has been reflected in media reports and discussions in various social media platforms,” the report says.
In South Africa, an outbreak of listeriosis, a serious food borne disease, has been ongoing since the start of 2017. Between 1 January 2017 through 14 March 2018, 978 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) from all provinces.
The outcome of illness is known for 674 patients, of whom 183 (27%) died; this case fatality rate is comparable to other recorded listeriosis outbreaks worldwide, the international health organisation said.
WHO said most of the cases are persons who have higher risks for a severe disease outcome; such as neonates, pregnant women, the elderly and immune compromised persons. In this outbreak, 42% of the cases are neonates who were infected during pregnancy or delivery.