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EU agencies publish report on zoonotic pathogens and food-borne illnesses

A report jointly issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) highlights the continuing challenges to food safety from pathogens transmitted through meat and other contaminated animal food products.

Zoonotic diseases and infections are those that are naturally transmitted to humans from vertebrate animals via a specialised agent, such as a bacterium, virus or fungus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that at least 61% of all human pathogens are zoonotic in origin and that zoonotic pathogens represent 75% of all emerging pathogens during the past decade.

The EFSA-ECDC report summarises the results of monitoring activities carried out in 2015 by 32 European countries (the 28 EU Member States, plus Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein). The report provides data on the number of confirmed human cases of infection, hospitalisations and deaths associated with exposure to 12 different zoonotic pathogens from contaminated food products.

Campylobacter was the most commonly reported zoonotic pathogen tracked, with over 229,000 cases reported. The largest single source of campylobacter-related infection is broiler meat, with nearly half (46.7%) of samples testing positive for the pathogen. On the positive side, the number of fatalities associated with campylobacter is low, just 0.03% of all reported cases. But EFSA-ECDC researchers note a “statistically significant increasing trend” in the incidence of campylobacter during the eight year period between 2008 and 2015.

Salmonella was the second most commonly reported zoonotic pathogen tracked during the study, with nearly 95,000 incidents, and a fatality rate of 0.024%. The highest occurrence of salmonella contamination was found in meats intended to be cooked before consumption, with average rates of non-compliance between 5.1-6.8% of all samples tested.

The most disturbing finding in the EFSA-ECDC report is the impact of listeria infections, especially among vulnerable populations. Listeria was connected with just 2200 reported cases in 2015, but had an associated fatality rate of 17.7%, the highest of any of the food-borne zoonotic pathogens tracked in the report. In addition, food-related listeria infections resulting in death were most common among those age 64 years and older, representing 65% of all listeria-related deaths reported.

The complete text of the EFSA-ECDC Zoonoses report is available here.

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