The World Health Organization, W.H.O, have issued a new clear warning on Listeriosis.

This warning covers over ten African countries and Nigeria is among them. South Africa is currently battling a listeriosis epidemic, and it appears to be struggling to curtail the spread with the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis has up to 948 since January 2017— the cases are also up by 221 since January 2018 alone. A total of 659 patients out of the 948 have been traced; 180 individuals have died. This equates to a 27% case fatality rate.

Seeing this ugly trend, the largest ever listeria outbreak in South Africa, the W.H.O decided to put Nigeria (Africa’s biggest economy) and other countries on alert. Why is this so? What does this mean if Nigeria fails to heed the warnings of the world health body.

What is listeriosis?

Listeriosis is food poisoning caused by eating foods contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) bacterium. The bacterium is found in soil, water, plants and animal feces. In pregnant women, the infection can result in miscarriage, premature delivery, serious infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

Listeriosis affects mainly pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and adults with impaired immune systems. Healthy adults and children sometimes are infected with L. monocytogenes, but they rarely become seriously ill. Babies can be born with listeriosis if their mothers eat contaminated food during pregnancy.

What causes listeriosis?

L. monocytogenes is found in soil and water.

  • Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer.
  • Animals can carry the bacteria and can contaminate meats and dairy products.
  • Processed foods, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts, can be contaminated after processing.
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk can be contaminated.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur. But infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness.

What countries did W.H.O warn?

Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Why should Nigeria take this warning seriously?

Already glaring are key indices that make Nigeria very susceptible and prone to a greater fatality rate than as observed in South Africa, a country of about 55 million people.

The fatality rate of this current outbreak in South Africa hovers at around 25%. In Nigeria, this could be worse comparatively because of her greater population of over 180 million people.

Poor healthcare structure and services remains a bane for majority of Nigerian that dwell in rural settings. This is more pronounced when a comparison is made on how the South Africa was able to identify the primary source of the disease and the effective steps taken to recall the ‘contaminated’ food products. The government was able to put the blame of a particular brand, Tiger Brand.

Major concerns still remain on the responsiveness of the health authorities. The perception of the public is still too on the modus of how the authorities respond to outbreaks. Public trust is quite low and could turn out bad if the listeria outbreak comes to Nigeria.

There is still a dearth of diagnostic tools, laboratories for infectious diseases, in most areas of the country. Facilities available are located in clustered in locations wherein an overwhelming number of hospitals feed their order to the hospital.

The Ebola outbreak in Nigeria and its subsequent defeat remains a good testimony to the preparedness of government to outbreaks. However, the mode of transmission and presenting symptoms for Ebola and Listeriosis is different and would each have to be managed differently. These two factors would be what either makes or mars any government’s ability to promptly ‘kill’ the disease.

More sinister is the fact that Nigerians are largely ubiquitous. It is quite possible that an overwhelming outbreak of listeria may directly (and indirectly) affect other countries in the sub-region.

Why a Listeria outbreak of this catastrophic proportions may not be possible in Nigeria? 

The South African experience which started last year 2017 have continued till 2018, with many more fatalities being recorded.

It was not until late last year, sometime in November, that the South African Government declared the disease a public health disease and mandated health workers to begin to report any case to it.

Also, Tiger Brand was identified as the source of the disease.

Remember that the disease is a transmitted by ingestion of contaminated materials. Tiger Brand is a big household brand in the South African economy and must have been a major positive factor in the continued spread of the disease.

Nigerians, traditionally are not particularly loyal to any known food brand when compared to other countries, for a lot of reasons. That is why a popular food brand in time A becomes less popular in time B. So, an outbreak that involves ingestion of contaminated food would affect isolated persons in communities where the source is a major influence on the diet of the people.

It is our take that the Nigerian Government should, in its usual manner, heed the warning alerts by the World Health Organization on a possible outbreak of Listeria. It must be responsive and prepared at all times!!!




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