05/03/2018 06:46 SAST | Updated 05/03/2018 08:51 SAST

The Chance Encounter That Blew The Whistle On Listeriosis

A corridor chat is all that stood between listeriosis and thousands more deaths.

Handout / Reuters
An electron micrograph of a Listeria bacterium in tissue is seen in a 2002 image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hundreds more might have died before the listeriosis outbreak was identified, were it not for a "serendipitous meeting" in the corridor of the Chris Baragwanath hospital in 2017, according to Times Select.

Paediatrician and Wits lecturer Dr David Moore, working in the hospital's mother and child HIV clinic, is the man who reportedly alerted the department of health to the possibility of an outbreak after a chance encounter with a colleague.

In mid-2017, Moore reportedly stopped to talk to a colleague treating premature babies in the hospital's neonatal ICU. The colleague reportedly told him about seven cases of listeriosis in newborns in the first half of 2017.

Moore reportedly said the number was unusually high, as listerioris is so rare that the hospital only sees about one case a year. Being an outsider, he was able to see this, and reportedly said that doctors working at the "coalface" of the neonatal unit are sometimes just too overworked to notice patterns like this. He described the unit as the busiest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

"I was a serendipitous meeting," Moore told Times Select, of the conversation that prompted him to alert Dr Kerrigan McCarthy, pathologist and head of the outbreak responses unit at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

On Sunday, it emerged that the listeriosis outbreak that has seen close to a thousand cases and nearly 180 deaths began at an Enterprise cold meats facility in Limpopo.

Tiger Brands, which owns Enterprise, said in a statement on Sunday that a strain of listeria was detected in some Enterprise products on 14 February but the presence of the ST6 strain had not yet been identified at the time.

The department of health has warned the public to avoid polony and cold meats.

Safety recall notices were issued to Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited, the department said.

Pick n Pay is the latest retailer to take all listeriosis-linked foods from its shelves, eNCA reported. This includes the Bokkie, Renown, Lifestyle and Mieliekip brands, as well as chicken polony.