The City of Cape Town’s department of health has beefed up its vigilance for diarrhoea cases this festive season as summer temperatures rise. With the listeria outbreak earlier this month, they have also increased efforts to identify the potential source of contamination and help mitigate the spread of the disease.

November to May is dubbed diarrhoea season, as it coincides with an increase in the number of diarrhoea cases, fueled by warmer weather which leads to the spread of germs. 

The city said in a statement, “Listeria is a bacterial pathogen which can trigger diarrhoea. It is usually spread through the ingestion of contaminated food products that can include raw or unpasteurised milk and soft cheeses, but also vegetables, processed foods, ready-to-eat meats and smoked fish products. The listeria bacterium can survive in normal temperatures associated with refrigeration (4°C). It can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby during pregnancy or at the time of birth.

By the end of November 2017, 33 cases and four deaths caused by listeria were recorded in the metropole.

City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, JP Smith said: “The City has increased its efforts to prevent further outbreaks of the disease. Our environmental health practitioners have been requested to visit the homes of people diagnosed with listeriosis. The City Health laboratory is now also equipped to analyse listeria as part of the sampling regime and will focus on higher-risk foods by means of a sampling project from time to time. We will also ramp up our health promotion efforts in communities and at clinics.”

The main preventive measure is to always ensure that good basic hygiene practices are followed. Use only pasteurised dairy products and follow the five key food safety tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly
  • Separate raw and cooked foods
  • Cook food thoroughly
  • Store food at safe temperatures
  • Use clean water and fresh food

In Cape Town, the number of diarrhoea deaths in children younger than five has decreased from 170 deaths in 2009/10 to 17 in 2016/17. This is due to a number of interventions implemented as part of the diarrhoea prevention programme instituted in 2008 and includes:

  • providing vitamin A supplements to children from six months to five years of age, repeated every six months to improve their health status
  • giving zinc supplements to children with diarrhoea to reduce the frequency and duration of the illness
  • training clinic staff, particularly in emergency rehydration techniques
  • having well-functioning oral rehydration solution corners in our clinics
  • fast-tracking diarrhoea cases to ensure timeous treatment
  • running awareness, education and hand-washing programmes for patients attending clinics
  • taking public awareness and hand-washing campaigns door-to-door in diarrhoea hot-spot areas
  • training community workers, early childhood development staff, and informal food vendors about health and hygiene matters
  • educating traditional healers about the danger signs of diarrhoea and the use of an oral rehydration solution
  • providing general practitioners and popular pharmacies with a standard information package containing local arrangements to fast-track referrals during diarrhoea season
  • encouraging exclusive breastfeeding, which is one of the most important measures to prevent diarrhoea in young children
  • linking all health facilities to a specific hospital in order to have an action plan in place should there be an increase in the number of cases requiring admission

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