Gran’s ‘tummy bug’ actually fatal listeriosis

Glenda Warmback
Picture: Supplied

Disease claimed unlikely victim within days of first symptoms and left another in frail care

Based on everything we have been told about listeriosis‚ Glenda Warmback had very little chance of contracting it. The 61-year-old grandmother was the healthiest she had been in years‚ according to her husband, Keith.

She had no immune system challenges and never ate any of the foods that have been linked to what has been confirmed as the source of the world’s biggest listeriosis outbreak – polony and other ready-to-eat cold meats.

Yet on December 22, she got a “tummy bug” – and by Christmas morning she was dead.

Hospital blood tests revealed that she had acute listeriosis.

“It was supposed to be a time of great joy for the family – Glenda had just met our year-old granddaughter‚ visiting from the US for the first time‚ and we were looking forward to a wonderful Christmas together.

“Instead, we were plunged into catastrophic grief and bewilderment,” Warmback said.

The family suspect the culprit was a meal Glenda ate at a national chain shortly before she fell ill‚ but as listeriosis symptoms can manifest any time between three and 70 days after contaminated food is eaten‚ the list of possible sources is long.

What they do know is the disease claimed their beloved wife‚ mother and grandmother with terrifying speed.

On December 23, she was vomiting violently‚ with bad diarrhoea‚ yet was not keen to go to hospital. But when she woke up in the early hours of Christmas Eve, she collapsed when trying to get out of bed.

“I picked her up and rushed her to hospital‚” Warmback said.

“By the time we got there‚ she didn’t know where she was.”

Her lungs collapsed‚ a doctor was unable to intubate her‚ and the hospital’s ICU staff eventually took over‚ but it was too late – she died in the early hours of Christmas morning.

“Initially, we couldn’t believe someone could die from what appeared to be a tummy bug‚” Warmback said.

He is pursuing a claim of negligence against the hospital.

Eileen Drever’s listeriosis ordeal began three days after Glenda died‚ at her retirement village in Queensburgh‚ KwaZulu-Natal.

The 75-year-old widow had a hip replacement operation about six months ago and had a few setbacks afterwards‚ her sister Rose Andrew‚ who lives in the same retirement village with her husband, said.

“But she was doing OK‚ still living in her own flat and driving.” All that changed on December 28.

“Eileen was trying to WhatsApp me‚ but she seemed to be confused,” Andrew said.

“I rushed back to the village to find her sitting in her flat‚ the door wide open. She tried to talk to me‚ but she couldn’t.”

Andrew rushed her to Westville Hospital‚ where a doctor initially thought she had suffered a mini stroke, but a brain scan revealed that she had not.

Then she lost the ability to walk and had seizures, and a lumbar puncture confirmed she had listeriosis.

Like Glenda, she is not fond of polony – but regularly eats ham and other cold meats.

Drever spent 21 days in ICU‚ followed by two weeks in a general ward‚ having physiotherapy twice a day. From there, she was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where she stayed for a month‚ and now‚ finally‚ she is back in the retirement village – but in frail care.

She is in a wheelchair and needs help with all her daily tasks.

“The listeriosis has left me very shaky and I’ve had several falls. I have no balance anymore,” she said.

  • Listeriosis symptoms are flu-like at first – fever‚ muscle aches‚ diarrhoea – and when the bacterium gets into the nervous system‚ they become meningitislike‚ including severe headache‚ sore neck‚ convulsions‚ confusion and loss of balance.
  • A total of 948 cases have been confirmed since January last year‚ with 180 of those having died‚ about 40% of them babies less than four weeks old.

Most cases in this outbreak have been reported from Gauteng (59%), Western Cape (12%) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%); 65% of them in state hospitals and 35% in private hospitals. – TimesLIVE

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