EFSA confirms chicken meat major source of human cases of campylobacteriosis

EFSA’s Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) Panel has adopted an opinion on the extent to which broiler (chicken) meat contributes to human cases of campylobacteriosis. Experts conclude that the handling, preparation and consumption of broiler meat may directly account for 20 to 30% of human cases of campylobacteriosis in the European Union.

In Europe, campylobacteriosis is the most common infectious disease transmissible from animals to humans through food and the opinion confirms previous findings that poultry meat appears to be a major, if not the largest,  source of human infection. TheBIOHAZ Panel estimates that the number of actual cases of human campylobacteriosis is likely to be much higher than officially reported.

BIOHAZ Panel Chair, Professor Dan Collins said: “We need to interpret our conclusions with care since data on sources of Campylobacter are scarce for the majority of Member States and in some cases they are unavailable.” The BIOHAZ Panel recommends active surveillance of campylobacteriosis in all Member States, including efforts to better quantify the level of unreported human cases.

Campylobacteriosis is generally contracted through ingestion of bacteria originating from contaminated food or contaminated water. The disease which can lead to diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and fever affects children, young adults and the elderly.

EFSA’s review of the different sources of human Campylobacter infections represents the first step in broader work in this area that is expected to be completed in 2010.  At the request of the Commission, the BIOHAZ Panel will identify and rank the possible control options and propose specific targets to reduce Campylobacter occurrence at the different stages of the broiler meat chain. This overall work will support risk managers in establishing appropriate measures to reduce the number of cases of human campylobacteriosis in the EU.

Notes to editors
  • Campylobacteriosis – over 200,000 cases of human campylobacteriosis were reported in 24 EU Member States in 2007. The unreported cases of campylobacteriosis include cases of campylobacteriosis that are not recorded in official statistics.  Most surveillance schemes for food-borne diseases depend on patients with symptoms of the disease consulting a primary care physician and subsequently being correctly diagnosed. If patients do not consult a health care practitioner and/or Campylobacter is not identified as the cause of the illness, the case is not reported. Previous exposure to Campylobacter resulting in immunity has also a role.
  • Broilers – in this opinion broilers are defined as birds of the species Gallus gallus specifically reared for the production of chicken meat under various production systems.
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