An outbreak of food-borne listeria bacteria has claimed 36 lives and infected nearly 600 people in South Africa, the health minister said Tuesday, warning that newborns and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.
Contamination in humans can result in flu-like illness, infection of the bloodstream and, in severe cases, infection of the brain which can prove fatal, he added.
He said the bacteria was not new, as it occurs every year and is seen in hospitals with only 60 to 80 cases detected and treated each year.
"The bacteria is widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation", he told a media briefing in Pretoria.
This is according to an alert by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), posted on Tuesday. Dr Motsoaledi stated 36 people have died due to the disease.
The source of the outbreak is now being investigated, but Motsoaledi said it's believe that this particular outbreak is from a food source that is being consumed by both the rich and the poor, and the contamination points may well be farms and food processing plants.
According to the NICD, of the 557 laboratory confirmed cases of listeriosis - a serious bacterial disease - as of November 29, 345 cases were reported in Gauteng, 71 in the Western Cape and 37 in KZN.
The minister urged South Africans to wash their hands before and during food preparation.
It poses a higher risk for newborns, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weak immunity, the health department said.
Members of the public are advised to call the NICD Emergency Operations Centre during working hours on 011 386 2000.