December 9, 2005
South Australian hospitals are safe despite an outbreak of food poisoning linked to the death of two patients, the state government says.
Two people, aged between 50 and 70, have died with health officials saying listeria was a probable contributor to their death.
Two other patients were recovering on antibiotics from listeria detected in the state’s public hospitals.
Health Minister John Hill assured the community “hospitals are still appropriate places to go if they are ill and that extra precautions will now be undertaken at all of the hospitals in South Australia”.
The two deaths occurred since late in October at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Gawler Hospital, north of the city.
Mr Hill said the source of the listeria, and cause of the deaths, was yet to be determined.
Health Department Communicable Diseases branch director Dr Rod Givney said the victims could have been exposed to the listeria bacteria up to three months before they were diagnosed.
“Our interest is in finding if there’s a common source supplier to all of those hospitals,” he said.
Dr Givney said while listeria probably contributed to the deaths, it was as yet not known how great a part the bacteria played in the fatalities.
Listeria is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria Monocytogenes, a bacteria widely found in nature and also possibly present in raw foods.
Dr Givney said the two deceased were “already sick with low immune systems but the listeria was also detected”.
“While listeria infection is uncommon and generally causes no symptoms in healthy people, it can be very dangerous for people in high risk groups,” he said.
People most at risk included pregnant women, those aged over 65, and people with weakened immune systems such as cancer, AIDS or diabetes.
Health officials were testing food from the hospitals where the patients were being treated and from their private homes.
Dr Givney said it appeared some of the victims acquired the listeria infection in hospital and some in the community.