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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 can become ill 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, 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 an outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa.
  • Listeriosis primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. It’s uncommon for people in other groups to get sick with listeriosis.
  • People usually become ill with listeriosis after eating contaminated foods. Travelers to South Africa, especially those with higher risk of infection, may wish to avoid certain foods to reduce their risk of infection.

What is the current situation?

Public health officials in South Africa have reported an ongoing outbreak of listeriosis that began in early 2017. Most cases have been reported in Gauteng, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. While the current condition of most people who have reported illness is unknown, over a third of those patients with known outcomes have died. The source of the outbreak is unknown. CDC will update this travel notice as more information becomes available.

In response to this outbreak, South African health authorities are interviewing ill people about what they ate before becoming ill and are conducting food and environmental testing.

Who is at risk for listeriosis?

The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, people 65 years or older, and people with weakened immune systems. One in five people with listeriosis die. Pregnant women typically experience a mild illness, but infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. It’s rare for people outside these groups to get Listeria infection.

What can travelers do to prevent listeriosis?

Travelers to South Africa should be aware that foods more likely to be contaminated with Listeria include soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, certain ready-to-eat meats (such as hot dogs, pâtés, lunch meats, and cold cuts), refrigerated smoked seafood, melons, raw or lightly cooked sprouts, and raw (unpasteurized) milk and other raw dairy products.

Travelers to South Africa may wish to avoid these foods or take other steps to reduce the risk of infection, such as heating hot dogs and deli meats to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot just before serving. This is especially true for high-risk travelers, including pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

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