In South Africa, the burden of communicable diseases greatly threatens the health sector, as recently demonstrated by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that placed tremendous pressure on healthcare workers and the sector alike. For this reason, non-pharmaceutical interventions have been, and continue to be our best defence against communicable diseases. Adopting certain behaviour, for instance, healthy hand hygiene may not only help limit the spread of respiratory infections like COVID-19 and influenza but also food- and waterborne diseases (enteric diseases) that may pose a high risk. In South Africa, the most predominant enteric diseases include salmonellosis and enteric (typhoid) fever, which normally spread through the consumption of contaminated food or water. The most effective ways to prevent the spread of these diseases are described below.
Salmonellosis, which is a common cause of gastroenteritis (‘stomach flu’) is a foodborne illness caused by Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella live in the intestines of animals and most infections spread to people through contaminated food, for instance, meat, poultry, eggs or milk. Gastroenteritis causes diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and fever with occasional symptoms of chills, headache, nausea and vomiting. It can be prevented by following the legislated control measures at all stages of the food preparation chain, including processing, transporting, and preparation. Safe domestic food preparation can assist to protect households from salmonellosis and prevent person-to-person transmission. The World Health Organization recommends ‘Five Keys to Safer Food’, namely hand hygiene, separation of raw and cooked foods, thorough cooking of poultry and meat before consuming, the use of safe water and lastly raw ingredients. Find out more about salmonellosis here.
Enteric fever (also called typhoid fever) is caused by a bacterial infection with Salmonella Typhi or Salmonella Paratyphi A, B or C. S. Typhi and S. Paratyphi only infect humans. The bacteria are shed in the faeces (poop) of an infected person and are transmitted from person to person by ingestion of food or water contaminated by these faeces. Infected persons present with fever and may have diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain or cramps. The most effective methods of preventing the disease are frequent handwashing with soap and water, especially after bathroom use and before handling food, consuming water that is safe and adequate sanitation. Those infected with the disease should refrain from partaking in food preparation activities until they are free of infection. Food handlers, in specific, should take special precautions, as they may be responsible for typhoid transmission. For more information click here.
Even though the threat of enteric diseases is ever-present, the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions should not be discounted. Safeguarding livelihoods and lessening the burden on the healthcare system are compelling reasons to take preventative measures seriously, and to practice them every single day. Prevention is better than cure, always.