The session covered topics at the forefront of microbiological risk assessment, from ranking of microbiological risks to estimating the social and economic cost of diseases and uncertainty in risk assessment. Drawing on their experience, the six speakers shared lessons learnt and examined the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
The global burden of foodborne diseases
Food-borne diseases affect everyone,said Arie Havelaar of the University of Florida. Major outbreaks have captured widespread attention in the past years, such as the melamine contamination incident in China or the E. coli outbreaks in Germany. However, these are only the tip of the iceberg – the problem is even bigger in developing countries, where food-borne diseases mainly affect children and their mothers. This burden has not been fully documented. Professor Havelaar presented the WHO programme on the estimation of the global burden of food-borne diseases, which was completed at the end of 2015.
Ranking microbiological risks
Risk ranking helps policy makers to focus their attention on the most significant public health problems, said Kostas Koutsoumanis, of Aristotle University, who argued that risk ranking is increasingly important for managing risks. He described the work carried out by EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards on microbiological risk ranking over the last four years.
A toolkit to calculate the burden of communicable diseases
We need to rank risks and pathogens. This will allow us to allocate finite resources to public health and help Member States deal with existing and emerging threats. So said Alessandro Cassini of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, who showed a toolkit for estimating the burden of communicable diseases in Europe. The toolkit provides user-friendly visualisations, facilitating the communication of complex information to decision makers.
Typing methods and risk assessment: the case of VTEC
“After this presentation, you will not be able to look at verotoxin-producing E. coli as a single pathogen any more,” promised Flemming Scheutz of the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark, who chose VTEC to illustrate how typing methods can be applied in risk assessment.
The diverse world of viruses
Marion Koopmans of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam spoke about challenges and opportunities in risk assessment of viruses. Genetic diversity and evolution, immunity, diversity of endpoints and detection methods are some of the specific factors to consider, she said.
Dealing with uncertainty in emergency assessments: the case of the EHEC outbreak in 2011 in Germany
Each and every crisis is distinct, but some common causes can be identified, argued Gordon Müller- Seitz of the Technical University Kaiserslautern. Lack of preparedness, organisational cultural anomalies, lack of knowledge transfer across incidents, incorrect managerial mantras, and ignorance of inter-dependencies are some of the common errors in response actions. Professor Müller- Seitz gave an insight on the challenges and lessons learnt from the Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli crisis in Germany.