EFSA-ECDC annual report on animal infections transmissible to humans: Salmonella infections in humans in the EU down, Listeria infections up Campylobacter still most frequently reported animal infection transmissible to humans

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have launched their yearly joint Community report on infectious diseases transmissible from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases) which affect over 350,000 people in the European Union (EU) every year. The report shows that while the number of Salmonellainfections in humans are still falling, infections from Listeria – which can be very dangerous to pregnant women and have a high mortality rate – are on the rise. Campylobacter infections still top the list of reported human zoonotic diseases. Resistance of Campylobacter bacteria in both humans and animals to one commonly used antimicrobial drug, ciprofloxacin, is reaching high levels and is cause for concern, the report said.

Salmonella, although experiencing a fall in the number of cases for a third successive year,remains second in the list of human zoonotic diseases across the EU with 160,649 people infected in 2006 (35 cases per 100,000) compared to 173,879 confirmed cases in 2005 (38 people per 100,000). Salmonella infections can cause diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. The majority of human Salmonella infections have their origins in eggs, poultry meat, pig meat, and even spices and herbs. An average 5.6 % of all raw broiler meat samples were reported to be infected with Salmonella in the European Union and in some instances the levels of Salmonella positive samples were as high as 67.6%.

The number of human listeriosis cases was up by 8.6% in the EU from 1,427 cases in 2005 to 1,583 in 2006, with the number of cases per 100,000 having increased by 59% over the last five years. Although few in number compared to Campylobacter and Salmonella, Listeria cases have a high mortality rate, particularly among vulnerable groups such as the elderly. It is also very dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause foetal infections, miscarriages and stillbirths.56% of Listeria infections occurred in individuals above 65 years of age. Ready-to-eat foodstuffs, such as cheeses and fishery and meat products, tended to be at the origin of most human infections.

Over 175,000 people in the EU suffered from Campylobacter infections in 2006. 46 cases in every 100,000 people were reported in 2006, falling from 52 cases per 100,000 in 2005 (195,426 confirmed human cases in 2005). Campylobacter infections generally cause an inflammatory and sometimes bloody diarrhea with cramps, fever and pain. The most common foodborne route of infection is through poultry meat. An average 35% of all raw broiler meat samples in the EU tested positive for Campylobacter[2] with Campylobacter positive samples being reported in levels up to 66.3% in some instances. In human Campylobacter cases, high levels of resistanceto ciprofloxacin was reported in 2006 (up to 45%), thereby causing severe problems in treating these infections. Ciprofloxacin is the drug most commonly used in severe Campylobacter infections in humans that require antibiotic therapy. This resistance is also common in Campylobacter from poultry meat and live poultry, pigs and cattle.

“The 2006 zoonoses report shows that the “farm to fork” approach for food safety and protecting public health is vital. Listeriosis is on the increase and bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter are still being found in animals on the farm, the food on our table and, unfortunately, in humans.” EFSA Executive Director, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, said.

ECDC Director Zsuzsanna Jakab, added: “An alarming fact highlighted in the 2006 report is that zoonotic bacteria found in animals and in humans are becoming increasingly resistant to commonly used antibiotics. This trend should be of concern for all those working with animal and human health issues.”

The report also provides data on other important zoonotic diseases such as Escherichia coli (verocytotoxin and Shiga toxin producing E. coli, collectively termed VTEC), Mycobacterium bovis, Brucella, Yersinia, Trichinella, Echinococcus, and Toxoplasma. The 2006 Zoonoses report is published by EFSA and is a joint EFSA–ECDC effort prepared using data gathered from both organisations from EU Member States and 4 other European countries.

[1] Risks for consumers are from under-cooking of chicken meat or cross-contamination to other foods. Thorough cooking and strict kitchen hygiene will prevent or reduce the risk posed by Salmonella contaminated meat.
[2] Risks for consumers are from under-cooking of chicken meat or cross-contamination to other foods. Thorough cooking and strict kitchen hygiene will prevent or reduce the risk posed by Campylobacter contaminated meat.

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