VTEC strains: EFSA looks at public health risks

EFSA’s scientific experts say that it is currently not possible to identify which VTEC bacteria strains have the potential to cause human diseases. In order to help risk managers to identify human health risks, EFSA has proposed a scheme to categorise VTEC strains according to their potential to cause disease. This work has been carried out in response to a request of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health.

VTEC (verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli) is a group of pathogenic E. coli bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhoea and haemolytic uremic syndrome in humans, a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure and be fatal [1].

EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) has evaluated data from the EU on different VTEC strains with respect to their reported frequency, severity of human disease caused by the strains, and association with outbreaks. The Panel concluded that it is currently not possible to fully predict the potential of a VTEC strain found in food to cause human disease.

However the Panel has provided guidance to assist public health authorities in assessing risks related to VTEC strains. They proposed a scheme that considers the detection of specific genes in VTEC strains from humans, food and animals. EFSA will regularly review this scheme to improve future risk assessments.

Due to under-reporting of human cases and the unavailability of complete information, EFSA’s scientific experts also recommended that all Member States collect comprehensive data on VTEC strains when these are detected. Accurate reporting will help in predicting the factors responsible for the severity of human infections and outbreaks.

To carry out this evaluation, the Panel used data from the European Surveillance System (TESSy data) provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and from the EU Summary Report on Trends and Sources of Zoonoses, Zoonotic Agents and Food-borne Outbreaks in 2011published today as well as data from relevant scientific literature.

Notes to editors

[1] A virulent and rare strain of VTEC, O104:H4, was identified as the source of the 2011 E.coli outbreak in France and Germany.

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