Listeria outbreak in Australia: Here's what you need to know

An outbreak of the rare and potentially life-threatening listeriosis illness has Australian health authorities scrambling to pinpoint its source after genetically-related clusters have been detected in three states. Here’s what you need to know.

Video transcript

- An outbreak of the rare and potentially life threatening listeriosis illness has Australian health authorities scrambling to pinpoint its source after genetically related clusters have been detected in three states.

Here's what you need to know. The illness is caused by eating food contaminated with the Listeria bacteria. And nine related cases have been confirmed so far in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, posing a high health risk to millions of Aussies.

New South Wales Health says, although listeriosis is rare, it has a high death rate. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea. In the more severe form, symptoms include collapse and shock.

An outbreak at mater hospital in Brisbane was confirmed on Saturday with four patients affected. All four had underlying health issues. Infection in healthy individuals does not usually cause illness. However, those who are pregnant, elderly, or immunocompromised are at a greater risk of serious health implications and require prompt medical intervention. There have been no deaths reported.

Listeriosis in New South Wales has already reached a number the state expects for the entire year with 25 cases reported. Victoria has also confirmed a number of clusters within the state. Queensland's chief health officer Dr. John Gerrard said there is potential for further cases to be notified as part of this outbreak as it can take up to two months for symptoms to appear after eating food contaminated with listeria.

So should you be worried? Despite the increase in cases, the illness cannot be spread from person to person and poses no severe health risk to the majority of Australians who are considered healthy.

For vulnerable Australians, health authorities are simply urging vigilance when consuming high risk food, including refrigerated food and pre-prepared meat and seafood, which should be prepared and stored safely. And general hygiene practices should be maintained at all times. The high risk food includes soft cheeses, cold meat products, pre-cut fruits and vegetables, pre-cooked seafood, and dips.

So what next? OzFoodNet is leading an investigation to determine how and where the Listeria outbreak started. Tests into potential food sources are underway. And results are expected in the coming weeks., according to Queensland Health.

Public awareness is also at the forefront of the investigation with authorities urging all who are experiencing flu like or gastro symptoms to visit their GP. A simple blood test can detect the bacteria. And treatment can commence if required.