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Towards improved surveillance of food poisoning cases in Europe

Public health professionals will soon have a clearer picture of the magnitude of food poisoning across Europe, thanks to a new European project which aims to improve the surveillance of food-borne infections across the continent.

The project is part of the Med-Vet-Net initiative, a European Network of Excellence which brings together experts from a range of fields to improve research into diseases transmitted from animals to humans, including food-borne infections.

Currently data on cases of food-borne infections are often not very precise, and data collection methods vary from country to country. 'This makes it difficult to calculate the overall burden and cost of diseases and it's virtually impossible to compare the situation between the different European countries,' explained Dr Kåre Mølbak, Project Leader and Director of the Department of Epidemiology at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

The new project will focus on two of the most common food-borne infections in Europe: Salmonella and Campylobacter. Between them, these bacteria cause hundreds of thousands of cases of gastrointestinal illness every year. Salmonella is found principally in meat, meat products and eggs; symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Campylobacter is also found mostly in meat, but it has also been detected in fish products, cheese and vegetables. Symptoms of campylobacter infection include acute diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramps.

The partners will look for infections in blood samples which are already stored in medical facilities. To do this the project partners will employ a cost-effective technique which has already been used to study infections in animals. Information on the levels of antibodies found in the blood will be translated to measures of disease frequency, and this in turn will be compared to the number of officially reported cases.

'By making full use of existing European studies and new data we will be able to calculate the ratios between infected cases, cases with symptoms in the community and lab reports,' said Dr Mølbak.

Ultimately, the researchers hope that by painting a more accurate picture of the incidence of these diseases, public health officials will be able to implement better disease control methods.

Med-Vet-Net - European Network of Excellence for Zoonoses research
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