An outbreak of the rare and potentially life-threatening listeriosis disease has Australian health authorities scrambling to pinpoint its source after genetically-related clusters have been detected in three states.
The illness is caused by eating food contaminated with the listeria bacteria, and nine related cases have been confirmed so far in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, posing a high health risk to millions of Aussies.
What you need to know
The outbreak at Mater Hospital in Brisbane was confirmed on Saturday with four patients affected. All four had underlying health issues.
Infection in healthy individuals does not usually cause illness, however, those who are pregnant, elderly or immunocompromised are at greater risk of serious health implications and require prompt medical intervention.
There have been no deaths reported.
Listeriosis in NSW has already reached a number the state expects for the entire year, with 25 cases reported. Victoria has also confirmed a "number of clusters" within the state.
Despite fears contaminated hospital food could be to blame for the outbreak, there is no single food common between the linked cases and the source is currently unknown.
🗣️ What they said
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard: “There is potential for further cases to be notified as part of this outbreak, as it can take up to two months for symptoms to appear after eating food contaminated with listeria... We are investigating several potential food sources, with tests currently underway."
Director of NSW Health’s One Health branch Keira Glasgow: "There are a range of foods that present very real risks to people who are older, pregnant or have underlying health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart, liver, or kidney disease, or who are on medications such as corticosteroids. NSW Health is reminding these vulnerable people to be aware of the foods that present these risks."
🤔 Should I be worried?
Despite the increase in listeriosis cases in recent days, the disease can not be spread from person to person, and poses no severe health risk to the majority of Australians who are considered healthy.
For the millions of Australians who are either pregnant, aged over 65 or have a weakened immune system, health authorities are simply urging vigilance when consuming 'high risk' food — including refrigerated food and pre-prepared meat and seafood — which should be prepared and stored safely and general hygiene practices should be maintained at all times.
Food vulnerable people should avoid include: soft cheeses, cold meat products, pre-cut fruits and vegetables, pre-cooked seafood and dips.
There is an average of about 150 people hospitalised in Australia each year, with 15 deaths reported annually, Health Direct reports.
⏭️ So what next?
An investigation is being led by OzFoodNet — a department within the federal government — to determine how and where the listeria outbreak started. Tests into potential food sources are underway and results are expected in the coming weeks according to Queensland Health.
Public awareness is also at the forefront of the investigation, with authorities urging all who are experiencing flu-like or gastro symptoms to visit their GP. A simple blood test can detect the bacteria and treatment can commence if required.
💬 Conversation starter
The harmful bacteria is one of the main offenders responsible for pregnant women's long list of best-avoided foods. To remove the risk listeria poses, food often needs to be cooked at a high temperature, therefore unpasteurised dairy or uncooked meat is a big no-no.
It is unknown why pregnant women are more susceptible to listeriosis, however, they are 18 times more likely to get it than healthy individuals.
Babies born with listeriosis will likely have serious infections of the blood or brain, which can cause lifelong health implications — such as seizures, blindness and problems with vital organs. It can also lead to death in newborn babies.
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