'My child was on oxygen and close to dying'

Sunday, March 18, 2018

One could hear their sweet, joyful laughter echoing from a mile away in this humble garage-turned daycare centre at Fuschia Road, in Klipspruit West.

It’ a normal Tuesday afternoon and nothing seems out of the ordinary at this crèche. But for the Child Care Orientation Centre management and parents, the fact that some of the learners are alive today is nothing short of a miracle.

In January, the daycare centre, which cares for some 25 children, was a scene of a health scare when nine of its learners, all under the age of five, were admitted to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital with Listeria symptoms - seen after eating a polony sandwich.

This is the same crèche that had assisted the national Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in tracing the source of the disease which tragically claimed the lives of 183 people across the country. Over 940 cases have been reported so far, making this the biggest outbreak in recorded history, according to the World health Organisation.

Listeriosis is a serious bacterial infection caused by the rod-shaped bacteria - Listeria monocytogenes. The bacterium is spread when people eat contaminated food.

The bacteria is preventable by good hygiene and treatable symptoms include mild flu-like symptoms, headaches, general body pains, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach aches.

The symptoms show up as early as two days after infection and can also be delayed up to a month.

Processed meat a key feature on SA menus

The children at Child Care Orientation Centre started showing symptoms of listeriosis within hours after eating the contaminated polony.

Momi Oliphant, the elderly woman who has been running the daycare centre for 23 years, has never experienced anything like this before.

She told SAnews during a visit this week that processed meat was a key feature on the menu here.  

Ready-to-eat processed meat products are also a key feature in many homes in South Africa. This can be attributed to their low cost, versatility, shelf-life and availability on the market making these foods an ideal lunch box companion for all economic classes.

Listeriosis a nightmare for any parent

For Oliphant, the Listeriosis outbreak is a nightmare as the majority of children under her care love and seem to enjoy polony and viennas, which can now be deadly.

“When we noticed the common symptoms from the children, we immediately rushed to the clinic and we were so fortunate because the nurses knew what they were dealing with.”

Tests were done, and it was found that they had Listeriosis.

Candice Du Preez, whose child Jorden (4) and nephew Rylan (3) were among nine children affected by the deadly listeria, says that while it can be considered luck that her children survived the outbreak, other families across the country were not so fortunate.

Before the outbreak hit home, Du Preez said although she had heard of listeriosis from the television and radio reports, she didn’t have full knowledge of it or just how serious it was.

“We got a call from the school that we need to rush to the local clinic. When we got there, my child was on oxygen already and was close to dying. He had all the listeriosis symptoms at once while others had one or two symptoms each.

“We were transferred to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital where the children would spend more than a week under care. The service was quick and health officials were hands-on,” Du Preez recalls.

Source of Listeriosis

The source of Llisteriosis had been traced to ready-to-eat processed meat products from an Enterprise Foods factory in Polokwane. Another facility, known as Rainbow Chicken Limited (RCL) also tested positive for Listeria but samples from this facility are not the same strain that is causing the outbreak. The cause of the outbreak strain ST6 was confirmed in 16 environmental samples collected from the Enterprise facility.

As such, processed meat products such as polony, viennas, russians, frankfurters, sausages and cold meat products have been listed as no-go zones by health officials.

Funny until a meme hits home

Since the announcement that processed meats like polony and viennas are the main culprit in the listeria outbreak, many South Africans quickly resorted to the old adage that laughter is always the best medicine, despite the panic.

In true South African style, many posted memes, jokes, spoofs and jingles on social media about their struggle to understand how they would pack a lunch box without their favourite cold meats.

Du Preez said while the country jokes about Listeriosis - the food poisoning bacterium was real and out there.

“We never thought it would hit home. Listeria is out there and real and the whole incident was traumatic for us as a family. As such, the family wants nothing to do with any processed meat. We are absolutely the lucky ones and we are not taking any chances and the whole family has now turned vegans because of Listeriosis. We do not want to risk it.”

Swift action commended

Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa, who visited the children this week, praised the swift action taken by the daycare centre in taking the affected children to the local clinic as a group.

She said if the sick children had been sent home, it would have taken longer to get a diagnosis and to trace the source.

By doing this, the MEC said possible deaths were prevented.

“The significance of this crèche is that they were able to trace the source of this particular strain of listeria that is causing the outbreak.  Because it is from the incident that we are able to trace…from the polony, we tracked where they bought it and where it was produced and that’s where the definitive source was found.”

The majority of people infected by Llisteria recover within seven days - which was the case with the children from the daycare centre.

For Oliphant, it’s a relief that none of the children lost their lives.

“Polony, I don’t even want to know the colour of that thing. We have resorted to either noodles or something that is nutritional, like today it was vegetables.”

Treatment of Listeriosis

Listeria in people with a compromised immune system, older adults, infants or pregnant women require urgent medical care as the bacteria can lead to Meningitis or Septicaemia. And in pregnant women, Listeriosis can result in a miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or Meningitis in the newborn – leading to permanent disability.

The treatment of Llisteriosis is usually symptomatic and depends on the severity of the disease. Treatment can include either a course of antibiotics or fluids through an IV drip.

Cases of Listeriosis reported

Since 1 January 2017, National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says about 967 laboratories confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported from all provinces.

Of the 967 cases, 749 cases were reported in 2017 and 218 cases in 2018. Some 183 people have died of the bacteria since January 2017, most cases have been reported in Gauteng.

According to the NICD statistics, Gauteng leads with the number of reported cases with 59% of cases from the province.

The Western Cape is second, with 12% of reported cases and KwaZulu-Natal with 7%. Other cases are spread out across other provinces.

Listeriosis has been diagnosed in both the public health sector with 65% of cases reported and 35% in the private health sector.

Recall of imports, lawsuits

Neighbouring SADC countries ordered the recall of imports of South African processed meat that was already in the market as a precautionary measure.

While still denying the culpability of the deaths of the 183, operations at both Enterprise manufacturing facilities in Polokwane and Germiston, which are owned by Tiger Brands, have been suspended and supply to trade has been halted while it’s recalling their implicated products.

The company is set to have more headaches as South African Listeriosis victims plan to file a class action case against the group. The class-action lawsuit could be the first under the 2011 Consumer Protection Act. This act is unique in that consumers don’t need to prove that the suppliers were negligent‚ only that the suppliers’ goods caused their illness. – SAnews.gov.za



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