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Published in N Engl J Med - 02/13/2020
Thomas J, Govender N, McCarthy KM, Erasmus LK, Doyle TJ, Allam M, Ismail A, Ramalwa N, Sekwadi P, Ntshoe G, Shonhiwa A, Essel V, Tau N, Smouse S, Ngomane HM, Disenyeng B, Page NA, Govender NP, Duse AG, Stewart R, Thomas T, Mahoney D, Tourdjman M, Disson O, Thouvenot P, Maury MM, Leclercq A, Lecuit M, Smith AM, Blumberg LH

Background

An outbreak of listeriosis was identified in South Africa in 2017. The source was unknown.

Methods

We conducted epidemiologic, trace-back, and environmental investigations and used whole-genome sequencing to type Listeria monocytogenes isolates. A case was defined as laboratory-confirmed L. monocytogenes infection during the period from June 11, 2017, to April 7, 2018.

Results

A total of 937 cases were identified, of which 465 (50%) were associated with pregnancy; 406 of the pregnancy-associated cases (87%) occurred in neonates. Of the 937 cases, 229 (24%) occurred in patients 15 to 49 years of age (excluding those who were pregnant). Among the patients in whom human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status was known, 38% of those with pregnancy-associated cases (77 of 204) and 46% of the remaining patients (97 of 211) were infected with HIV. Among 728 patients with a known outcome, 193 (27%) died. Clinical isolates from 609 patients were sequenced, and 567 (93%) were identified as sequence type 6 (ST6). In a case–control analysis, patients with ST6 infections were more likely to have eaten polony (a ready-to-eat processed meat) than those with non-ST6 infections (odds ratio, 8.55; 95% confidence interval, 1.66 to 43.35). Polony and environmental samples also yielded ST6 isolates, which, together with the isolates from the patients, belonged to the same core-genome multilocus sequence typing cluster with no more than 4 allelic differences; these findings showed that polony produced at a single facility was the outbreak source. A recall of ready-to-eat processed meat products from this facility was associated with a rapid decline in the incidence of L. monocytogenes ST6 infections.

Conclusions

This investigation showed that in a middle-income country with a high prevalence of HIV infection, L. monocytogenes caused disproportionate illness among pregnant girls and women and HIV-infected persons. Whole-genome sequencing facilitated the detection of the outbreak and guided the trace-back investigations that led to the identification of the source.