OFFICIALS have warned of outbreaks of Listeria, a bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea.
Listeriosis is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, people with health conditions or on immunosuppressant medication and those over 65.
A surge in cases has now been linked to smoked fish, with experts urging people to take care preparing it.
Six cases of listeriosis have been reported since the start of the year, which is the same counted in 2020 and 2021 combined.
But in 2019, there were 142 confirmed cases in England and Wales.
The majority of the 12 cases since 2020, in England and Scotland, had reported eating smoked fish, a statement from The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said.
At risk groups
Professor Saheer Gharbia, Interim Deputy Director Gastrointestinal Infections and Food Safety (One Health) at The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “Listeria infection in most people is usually either unnoticed or may cause very mild gastrointestinal illness.
“However, it can have more serious consequences for some people, particularly those with pre-existing health conditions that cause weakened immunity, and people who are pregnant.”
Pregnant women are at increased risk of developing listeriosis by around 20 times.
It can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or severe illness in their newborn babies.
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A third of cases in pregnant women in 2019 resulted in stillbirth or miscarriage in England and Wales.
More serious infections such as severe sepsis and meningitis can develop in those with weakened immune systems or those over 65 years of age.
People with cancer, organ transplants, HIV or taking oral steroids are just some of the other vulnerable groups.
The mortality rate of severe listeriosis, affecting higher-risk people, is 20 to 30 per cent, according to the World Health Organization.
Symptoms to watch for
For most people, listeriosis is a mild illness that gets better on its own.
You may experience:
- A high temperature of 38C or above
- Aches and pains
- Feeling or being sick
Signs of a more serious infection include:
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
Pregnant women may also have:
- A stomach ache
- Feel their baby moving less than usual
The bacteria Listeria is widespread in the environment and can contaminate food at low temperatures, but be destroyed by cooking.
Therefore, chilled foods that don’t need cooking are more likely to carry the deadly bug.
Previous outbreaks have been linked to cold meats and pre-prepared sandwiches.
In 2019, there was a significant Listeria outbreak in NHS hospitals caused by contaminated sandwhiches, leading to the deaths of seven people.
The most common kinds of smoked fish are salmon and mackeral.
Prof Gharbia said: “There are certain foods that are more risky.
“And in light of this outbreak, we are advising pregnant and vulnerable people to thoroughly cook smoked fish before eating it.”
Tina Potter, FSA Head of Incidents, said: “We are reminding people who are vulnerable to Listeria infection… of the risks in consuming smoked fish and asking them to make sure that the smoked fish is always thoroughly cooked including when served as part of a dish before they eat it.
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“Members of the public do not need to avoid these products, but should ensure risks are reduced as far as possible.
“You can do this by keeping chilled ready-to-eat smoked fish cold (5⁰C or below), always using products by their use-by date, following the storage and usage instructions on the label, and cooking or reheating smoked fish until it is piping hot right through.”
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