Campylobacter cases in humans on the rise

by Editor
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have published their Community Zoonoses Report for 2007. It analyses the occurrence of infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

The report shows that although figures varied considerably between Member States, Campylobacter infections still topped the list of zoonotic diseases in the European Union and that the number of cases due to Salmonella infections in humans fell for the fourth year in a row. Cases of listeriosis remained at the same level.

In 2007, infections from Campylobacter were again the most frequently reported zoonotic disease in humans across the European Union with 200,507 cases compared to 175,561 in the previous year, an increase of 14.2%. Regarding Salmonella, although the number of cases showed a decrease for a fourth successive year, 151,995 people were affected by the bacterium in 2007 compared to 164,011 in 2006. The number of Listeria infections in humans in 2007 remained at the same level as in 2006 with 1,554 confirmed cases; Listeria also showed the highest mortality rate, especially among vulnerable groups.

In foodstuffs, Campylobacter, which generally causes diarrhoea, cramps and fever in humans, was mostly found in raw poultry meat with an average of 26% of samples showing contamination. In live animals, Campylobacter was found in poultry, pigs and cattle.

Poultry and pig meat were reported as the foods most frequently associated with Salmonella, and on average 5.5 % of all fresh poultry meat samples within the European Union was found to be contaminated. Eggs and egg products were also found to be contaminated, while the bacterium was only rarely detected in raw dairy products, vegetables and fruits. In animal populations, Salmonella was most frequently detected in poultry flocks. In 2007, the Commission launched a new control programme against Salmonella in breeding poultry flocks and at the end of that year 15 Member States had already met the legal target of 1%, which is set for end 2009.

Listeria, although less frequent in humans compared to Campylobacter and Salmonella, showed a high mortality rate of 20%, particularly amongst vulnerable groups such as the elderly. Listeriosis is also very dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause foetal infections, miscarriages and stillbirths. Results showed some cases of Listeria above the legal safety limit in ready-to-eat foods, most often in smoked fish and other fishery products, followed by meat products and cheese.

The importance of a zoonosis as a human infection does not depend only on its incidence in the population, but also on its severity, as some may cause serious illnesses or have higher mortality rate, despite relatively low number of cases. This is the case for instance of verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC), which accounted for a total of 2,905 human infections in the European Union. The report also provided data on other zoonotic diseases, such as brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis and rabies.