At least nine countries have imported rockmelons contaminated with the deadly listeria bacteria from Australia, where seven people have died and one woman suffered a miscarriage after being infected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that the rockmelons, also known as cantaloupes, were exported to Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and maybe even the Seychelles.
In March, the Australian National Focal Point reported an outbreak of Listeria associated with the consumption of rockmelons from a single grower in New South Wales. A total of 19 confirmed cases of listeriosis were reported in Australia since January.
“It is believed that the cause of the outbreak was a combination of environmental conditions and weather contaminating the surface of the fruit, with low levels of the bacteria persisting after the washing process,” the WHO said.
What is listeriosis?
It’s a foodborne disease, which means that it is contracted by ingesting something (and it’s not just rockmelons) that was contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
Who is at risk?
The WHO says that pregnant women are 20 times more susceptible to listeriosis than other healthy adults, while people with HIV/AIDS are more than 300 times more likely to fall ill from the infection.
What are the symptoms?
A mild form of the disease has an incubation period of a few days and causes symptoms like fever, muscle aches, diarrhoea, and headache in healthy people.
However, a more severe form affects high-risk people like pregnant women, the elderly, infants, and patients undergoing treatment for cancer, AIDS and organ transplants. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, meningitis, and septicaemia. The mortality rate is high for the severe form – 20% to 30% – and the incubation period can go up to 90 days.
How do you treat or prevent listeriosis?
The bacteria in food can be killed by pasteurisation or cooking. The disease can be treated if diagnosed early.
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