The City of Cape Town’s Health Department has stepped up its vigilance for diarrhoea cases among children as summer temperatures rise. The period from November to May is dubbed diarrhoea surge season as it coincides with an increase in the number of diarrhoea cases because of the warmer weather which assists the spread of germs. Children under five are particularly vulnerable, with a high number of fatalities still experienced in developing countries in spite of the fact that diarrhoea is both preventable and self-limiting if a good level of hydration is maintained during an occurrence.
The number of diarrhoea cases recorded during November (2 100) is on par with the previous season (2 071), which was one of the mildest outbreaks on record for a number of years. During the same period, there were 21 cases with severe dehydration and 37 cases with moderate dehydration. No fatalities were recorded in November.
In Cape Town, the number of diarrhoea deaths in children younger than five has decreased from 170 deaths in 2009/10 to 17 in 2016/17. This is due to a number of interventions implemented as part of the diarrhoea prevention programme instituted in 2008.
“The important thing is for caregivers to be vigilant for early signs of diarrhoea and know what to do. Health workers can only assist when a child is brought in to the clinic, so we rely heavily on parents, families and caregivers to act quickly before signs of dehydration present themselves and to be mindful of the do’s and don’ts. A critical aspect is ensuring that hands are kept clean, particularly when handling food, to minimise the spread of germs,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.
Listeria is a bacterial pathogen which can trigger diarrhoea. It is usually spread through the ingestion of contaminated food products that can include raw or unpasteurised milk and soft cheeses, but also vegetables, processed foods, ready-to-eat meats and smoked fish products. The listeria bacterium can survive in normal temperatures associated with refrigeration (4°C). It can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby during pregnancy or at the time of birth.
By the end of November 2017, 33 cases and four deaths caused by listeria were recorded in the metropole. The City has increased its efforts to identify the potential source of contamination and help mitigate the spread of the disease.
The main preventive measure is to always ensure that good basic hygiene practices are followed. Use only pasteurised dairy products and follow the five key food safety tips:
· Wash your hands thoroughly
· Separate raw and cooked foods
· Cook food thoroughly
· Store food at safe temperatures
· Use clean water and fresh food
“The City has increased its efforts to prevent further outbreaks of the disease. Our environmental health practitioners have been requested to visit the homes of people diagnosed with listeriosis. The City Health laboratory is now also equipped to analyse listeria as part of the sampling regime and will focus on higher-risk foods by means of a sampling project from time to time. We will also ramp up our health promotion efforts in communities and at clinics,” said Alderman Smith.