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Listeriosis in South Africa

Warning - Level 3, Avoid Nonessential Travel
Alert - Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions
Watch - Level 1, Practice Usual Precautions

What is listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by the germ Listeria monocytogenes. People usually become ill starting 1–4 weeks after eating contaminated foods. Foods more likely to be contaminated include soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, certain ready-to-eat meats (such as hot dogs, sausages, pâtés, lunch meats, cold cuts), refrigerated smoked seafood, melons, raw or lightly cooked sprouts, and raw (unpasteurized) milk and other raw dairy products.

Key Points

  • There is a severe, widespread outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa that has been linked to ready-to-eat processed meat products, including “polony.”
  • Travelers to South Africa should avoid all ready-to-eat processed meat products to reduce their risk of listeriosis.
  • Pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from listeriosis.

What is the current situation?

Public health officials in South Africa have reported an ongoing outbreak of listeriosis that began in January 2017. Around 1,000 people have become ill since then. Most illnesses have been reported in Gauteng, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, but illnesses have occurred throughout the country. Over 180 ill people with known outcomes have died. The source of the listeriosis outbreak has been identified in a variety of processed, ready-to-eat meat products, including “polony,” in South Africa.

Who is at risk for listeriosis?

Anyone can be at risk for listeriosis. Pregnant women and their newborns, people 65 years or older, and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill with listeriosis. One in five people with listeriosis die. Pregnant women typically experience only fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

People other than pregnant women can have symptoms that include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and seizures in addition to fever and muscle aches.

What can travelers do to prevent listeriosis?

CDC recommends that all travelers to South Africa avoid all ready-to-eat processed meat products, including polony, at this time.

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