Ongoing Listeria outbreak linked to smoked fish after rise in cases

An ongoing Listeria outbreak in the UK has been linked to smoked fish, public health authorities have said.

There has been a surge in cases of listeriosis – an illness caused by the bacterium – since the start of the year, according to officials.

While infection is likely to go unnoticed or cause short-term flu-like symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea in healthy adults, it can be dangerous to pregnant women, those over 65 years old or with weakened immune systems.

Vulnerable groups are being advised to ensure smoked fish is thoroughly cooked before eating it to destroy the Listeria bacterium in light of the current outbreak.

Six cases of listeriosis have been detected in the past three months, including one in a pregnant woman, public health authorities said on Monday.

The same number of infections was recorded in 2020 and 2021 combined, according to the UK Health Security Agency, Public Health England and Public Health Scotland said.

Most of the individuals infected during the ongoing outbreak reported eating smoked fish, the joint statement said.

Advice will be updated to include this food in a list of high-risk products that those vulnerable to Listeria infection should cook thoroughly before eating.

Pregnancy leads to an increased risk of developing listeriosis, which can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or severe illness in their newborn babies, authorities say.

For those with weakened immune systems, it can cause more serious infections such as severe sepsis and meningitis to develop.

Others at particularly high risk of listeriosis includes those over the age of 65, cancer patients or those with organ transplants.

Tina Potter, the head of incidents at the Food Standards Agency, said public health bodies were reminding people 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”.

“We are working closely with UK partners across government to ensure that this advice is as clear as possible – members of the public do not need to avoid these products, but should ensure risks are reduced as far as possible,” she said.

Ms Potter advised people to keep chilled ready-to-eat smoked fish cold at temperatures of 5C or below, use products by use-by dates and to cook or reheat smoked fish until it is piping hot right through.

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