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HEALTH

Two dead and 186 confirmed cases: What you need to know about the listeria outbreak sweeping across Spain

A second person has died and 186 people now affected after eating contaminated meat. Here's what you need to know about the listeria outbreak spreading across Spain.

Two dead and 186 confirmed cases: What you need to know about the listeria outbreak sweeping across Spain
Photo: alexraths/Depositphotos

Spain’s health ministry has issued an international alert over what is being called the biggest ever listeriosis outbreak to hit Spain.

Who has been affected?

The number of people confirmed to have been infected has reached 186 with dozens having been hospitalized, including 31 pregnant women.

But more than 500 other cases are suspected of being linked to the outbreak, confirmed the Ministry of health in a statement.

A 90-year-old woman became the first fatality linked to the outbreak, after she passed away in Seville's Virgen del Rocio hospital on Tuesday and on Friday a 72-year-old man, who was in palliative care suffering from pancreatic cancer, died after contracting listeriosis.

Among those who have fallen ill are at least 23 pregnant women, at least two of whom suffered miscarriages suspected to have been caused by the infection, said the Junta de Andalusia, one losing a baby in the 18th week of gestation, and another in her third trimester.

Ten members of the same family were being treated after they all shared a meal of contaminated meat during the fiesta on August 15th. Among them are a pregnant woman and two young girls.

What is listeria?


The listeria monocytogenes under the microscope.

Listeria is a commonly found bacteria and most people who consume foods that contain it do not become ill.

But for elderly people, pregnant women or those with serious conditions like diabetes or cancer, it poses a serious threat.

Listeriosis begins with flu-like symptoms including chills, fever and muscle aches. It can take up to six weeks after consuming contaminated foods for symptoms to occur.

The infection is caused by the bacteria listeria monocytogenes, which can grow in foods, especially soft cheese, unpasteurised milk, and smoked fish, which is why pregnant women are advised to avoid these. It can also grow on other food products, including salads, and can continue to replicate even when food is refrigerated at cold temperatures.

A recent report revealed that an average of 70 people die from Listeriosis each year in Spain.

Where has it been detected?

Most confirmed cases – 161 so far –  have been recorded in the southern region of Andalusia, where the packaged pork plant linked to the outbreak is situated.

But there have been other cases confirmed in Extremadura, Castile-Leon, Madrid, Aragon and as far away as Asturias and Catalonia.

Authorities have expressed concern over possible infection among tourists who may not suffer symptoms until they return home.

As well as issuing a national alert over the outbreak, Spain’s health ministry said it had issued alerts to EU authorities and the World Health Organization.

What's the source? 

The regional government of Andalusia warned last Thursday that meatloaf or pre-cooked meat, known as carne mechada was to blame. The source has been traced to contaminated meat sold under the commercial name “la Mecha” made by Seville-based company Magrudis. 

The entire batch of that particular product has been recalled from shops, the health ministry said, but consumer watchdog Facua warned that smaller stores may not have heeded the recall or that contaminated products could already have been bought and are in households awaiting consumption.

On  Wednesday, health authorities widened the recall to all the products manufactured in the Magrudis factory since May 1st and have closed the plant entirely.

“Obviously there was a failure to follow the established procedures,” acting health minister Maria Luisa Carcedo told reporters. “Now we need to carry out the inspections and investigations to figure out exactly where this failure took place.”

Further products were added to the list of possible contaminated meat, all from the Magrudis factory, that ceased manufactoring on August 15th when the outbreak came to light.

These include packets from the Magrudis brand labelled; Crema de carne mechada, Manteca colorá, Pringá estilo casero, Zurrapa de hígado, Zurrapa lomo blanca and Zurrapa lomo roja.

Controversy

Questions are being asked as to why it took so long to raise the alarm over the outbreak and for the contaminated meat to be recalled.

Regional health authorities in Andalucia admit that it was first detected on August 5th but wasn’t until August 15th that a health alert was issued.

Rubén Sánchez, head of Facua, has called for the immediate dismissal of Jesús Aguirre, Andalusia’s regional health minister, for his “disastrous mismanagement” of the outbreak.

READ MORE: What is it that makes living in Spain so healthy? 

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HEALTH

How Spain could stamp out smoking

A fifth of Spain's population smokes on a daily basis. With such high numbers, here's how the country's pulmonologists propose to get smokers to quit.

Spain plans to get people to quit smoking
How Spain plans to get people to stop smoking. Photo: Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

For many outsiders, Spain is a nation of smokers. 

The stats from Spain’s Ministry of Health show that 23.3 percent of men smoke every day in Spain, compared with 16.4 percent of women.

For both males and females, the highest number of smokers are aged between 25 and 34, meaning that it’s the younger population who are smoking slightly more than the older generations. 

Spain’s pulmonologists are now pushing for the country’s tobacco laws to be tightened, claiming that reform is needed after the last legislation was approved a decade ago.

READ ALSO: Spain warns against smoking and vaping in public to avoid Covid infections

Why is smoking such a problem in Spain and what is being done about it?

The latest stats from the Spanish Ministry of Health show that lung cancer, often caused by smoking, is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in Spain, with 29,549 cases diagnosed so far in 2021.

Given these high figures Spain’s Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) has proposed five measures to help get people to stop smoking.

SEPAR points out that every time anti-smoking legislation is reformed and things for smokers made more difficult, the prevalence of smoking decreases.  

Smoking on terraces was banned in some regions during the pandemic. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP
  • Price of tobacco to rise in 2022

The first point on their list is to raise the price of tobacco, which must cover all forms, from cigarettes to cigars, through to rolling tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.  

This first measure may soon become a reality as the Spanish government has already predicted that the price of tobacco will rise in 2022, after several years of stagnation.  

It is expected that tobacco will be responsible for almost a third of all special taxes received in 2022, equating to €21.8 billion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “cheap tobacco” in Spain guarantees “a percentage of smokers above 30 percent”.

In Spain, the price of a pack of tobacco is around €5, which is much cheaper than in other countries. In Australia for example, a pack of tobacco costs around €22, and in the United Kingdom and France, each pack of tobacco costs around €12.4 and €10.5, respectively.

According to Dr. Carlos A. Jiménez Ruiz, pulmonologist and president of the society, the current anti-smoking law has “some deficiencies” that need to be addressed in order to develop legislation that is more effective and efficient, especially with regard to the prevention of tobacco consumption in young people, but also in helping smokers to stop smoking and in protecting the health of non-smokers. 

READ ALSO – Maps: Which beaches in Spain have banned smoking?

Besides increasing the cost of tobacco SEPAR proposes four other measures to get Spain to quit smoking. These include:

  • Banning the consumption of tobacco in public spaces, even outdoors
    During the pandemic, several regions approved a regulation to prohibit smoking on terraces. SEPAR proposes that smoking be prohibited not only in spaces such as terraces but also in sports stadiums, beaches, parks and bullrings, and that fines should be imposed for those who do not comply.

  • Establish generic packaging
    SEPAR also wants Spain to introduce generic packaging, which means no logos and images of the tobacco companies. This measure has also proven to lower the sales of tobacco in countries where it has been implemented, such as Australia and New Zealand. According to the latest statistics from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey around 11.6 percent of adults in Australia smoke daily. 

  • The regulation of other smoking devices
    Despite the fact that all products that burn tobacco such as cigarettes are already regulated, SEPAR believes that it is also necessary to regulate the sale, consumption and advertising of electronic cigarettes. This is because e-cigarettes have become particularly popular among young people. 

  • Promote help for those seeking to quit smoking
    The last proposal is the creation and development of special units in public health departments to help people to stop smoking and to put more funds towards these programmes. 

How does Spain compare with other European countries when it comes to smoking?

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while Spain does have a high number of smokers there are still several European countries that have more. The European countries with the highest number of smokers are Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The latest European survey from 2020 shows that 42 percent of Greeks claim to be smokers, which is only slightly above Spain. 

On the other side, the European countries with the lowest number of smokers are mainly Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

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