EU sees large drop in food illnesses in 2020 partly because of COVID-19
A decline in foodborne infections ranged from 7 percent to 53 percent in 2020 in Europe largely because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) report also saw Yersinia retake third place from E. coli for the number of infections.
Data came from 27 EU member states as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Some data was reported by Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Experts acknowledged the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the drop in diseases ranging from 7 percent for listeriosis to 53 percent for brucellosis. For trichinellosis and yersiniosis there was a rise of 39 percent and 6 percent, respectively, in the reporting rate compared with 2019.
Possible factors behind the decrease include changes in health care seeking behavior, restrictions on travel and events, closure of restaurants, lockdown, and other measures such as use of masks, physical distancing and hand sanitization. Figures were also impacted by the UK no longer being an EU member state, according to the report.
Campylobacter down by 33 percent
Campylobacteriosis was the most reported zoonosis in the EU in 2020, with 120,946 cases compared to more than 220,000 in the previous year. This was the lowest since surveillance began in 2007 but it still represented more than 60 percent of all cases. More than 8,600 people were hospitalized and 45 people died. The top hospitalization rates were in Latvia, Poland and Cyprus.
Almost 46,400 cases were recorded in Germany followed by Czech Republic and France. The highest reporting rates were in Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Denmark. The lowest were in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Latvia and Portugal. The biggest proportion of reported cases were in the youngest age group from zero to 4 years old.
For most cases of known origin, infection was contracted in the EU. Many were acquired in Spain, Croatia, France and Austria. Thailand, India, Morocco and Indonesia were the main probable countries of infection outside Europe.
Overall, 21 countries submitted data on the Campylobacter process hygiene regulatory limit. Twelve reported official controls from 6,384 poultry neck skin samples. Of these, 38.7 percent were positive, and 17.8 percent exceeded the limit of 1,000 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g).
Seventeen reported monitoring data based on sampling results from food businesses. A total of 46,259 results from neck skin samples were reported and 31.3 percent were positive, whereas 17.6 percent were above 1,000 CFU/g.
Eight nations had results from both, showing 42.1 percent and 40.1 percent positive samples from official and food business samples, respectively. Overall, the number exceeding the limit was higher in official samples (16.6 percent) than those based on own-checks (8.9 percent).
Salmonella drops by 30 percent
Salmonellosis affected 52,702 people compared to 88,000 in 2019. More than 6,100 were hospitalized and 57 people died. The highest proportions of hospitalized cases were in Cyprus, Greece and Lithuania.
The top five Salmonella types causing infections were Enteritidis, Typhimurium, Monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium (1,4,,12:i:-), Infantis and Derby. Brandenburg, Muenchen, Panama, London and Kottbus entered the top 20 list of most frequent serovars.
The most infections were in Germany with more than 8,600, followed by France and Poland. The highest reporting rates were from Czech Republic and Slovakia, while the lowest were in Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Romania. The most affected age groups were 1 to 4 years old, 5 to 9 and older than 65 years.
Of 1,249 travel-associated cases with information on probable country of infection, many went to Thailand, Egypt, Turkey or Indonesia. In the EU, Spain and Poland were the top destinations.
For 10 of 22 countries that responded to a survey on the COVID-19 impact on surveillance and reporting of food and waterborne disease data, the pandemic impacted their surveillance and monitoring systems, while for seven nations there were no reported effects.
The third most common disease was yersiniosis with more than 5,600 infections. More than 350 people were hospitalized and two died. Germany had the most cases, followed by France. The highest reporting rates were in Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Latvia.
E. coli and Listeria findings
For Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), almost 4,450 cases were recorded with 652 hospitalizations and 13 deaths. High proportions of hospitalized cases were recorded in Italy, Estonia, Portugal Belgium, Romania and Ireland.
Germany had the most cases with more than 1,400 followed by Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands and Austria. The highest reporting rates were in Ireland and Denmark with the lowest in Latvia, Hungary, Romania, Portugal, Greece, Slovakia and Poland. Egypt was most frequent probable country of infection, followed by Thailand and Turkey among the non-EU countries.
The most common serogroup was O26, accounting for 20 percent of cases with this information available. It was the first time it caused more confirmed infections than O157. They were followed by O103, O145, O146, O91, O80 and O128 while O183 and O177 made it into the top 20 list for 2020.
The number of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) cases fell to 320 from 394 in 2019. They were reported in all age groups, with the most in those from zero-4 and 5-14 years old. The top serogroups were O26, O80, O157 and O145.
Listeriosis was fifth with 1,876 cases, mainly affecting people older than 64. It had one of the highest fatality and hospitalization rates. From more than 800 cases with available data, 780 were hospitalized and 167 people died. France had the most fatal cases with 43 followed by Spain at 33 and Germany with 26.
Germany had the most infections with almost 550 followed by France, Spain and Italy. The highest reporting rates were in Finland, Slovenia, Malta and Sweden, with the lowest reported by Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ireland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Greece. Infections were mostly acquired in Europe.
The amount of confirmed cases of human brucellosis was 128 compared to 310 in 2019 and confirmed cases of trichinellosis went up to 117 from 97 in 2019 mainly because of the number reported by Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, and Poland.
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