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Deadliest listeriosis outbreak in South Africa's history not slowing down

Staff Writer | January 19, 2018
The deadly and record-setting South African listeriosis outbreak is not slowing down.
listeriosis outbreak
Africa   Contaminated food
Contaminated food is the suspected culprit, but health officials have not yet identified a specific source.

Since the new year began, the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has confirmed six more listeriosis deaths, bringing the death toll to 67.

The South African listeriosis outbreak is already the deadliest in recorded history. Previously, the largest listeriosis outbreaks were in the United States in 2011, and in Italy in 1997.

Other Listeria outbreaks have resulted in fatality rates as high as 20 to 40 percent. The best known of those was the high-profile Listeria outbreak linked to deli meats from Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods, which caused the deaths of 22 mostly elderly Canadians.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the South African listeriosis outbreak is now the largest ever reported. The organization officially declared the outbreak status on December 5, 2017.

According to, with 748 cases reported, the fatality rate for the overall outbreak is just under 9 percent.

However, the death toll among so-called traced patients is much higher, topping 40 percent. Neither South Africa nor WHO have yet identified the source of the deadly pathogen, but the investigation is continuing.

The South African government suspects a food source is responsible for the outbreak that has touched all nine of the country’s provinces.