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Deadly diseases possible: viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food


Viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria: dangerous pathogens in food

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that around two million people worldwide die every year from infections caused by contaminated food and impure drinking water. Germs also lurk in many foods in Germany. Some of them can cause fatal diseases.

Microbial risks in food

“Egg recalls for salmonella”, “Noroviruses detected in frozen raspberries”, “Hepatitis E infections caused by pork”, “Antibiotic-resistant germs in grilled meat”: These and similar headlines have been appearing almost weekly in the media for years. But how dangerous are such germs? Experts are now dealing with the microbial risks in food.

Troubled population

According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), pathogenic microorganisms are among the most common causes of food-borne illnesses. Every year they cause more than 100,000 illnesses in Germany - some of them fatal.

Against this background, two BfR symposia in November 2018 deal with microbial risks in food: "Food-associated viruses" on November 7 and "Antibiotic resistance in the food chain" on November 8/9. November.

"Microbial risks have reached public awareness," said BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel in a press release.

"Our current representative population survey, the BfR consumer monitor, shows that 97% of respondents heard of Salmonella in food, or 89% of antibiotic resistance," explains the expert.

The majority of those surveyed therefore stated that “they are concerned about these issues. Everyone is able to minimize personal health risks through appropriate kitchen hygiene. "

More foodborne diseases

According to the BfR, the number of food-borne diseases caused by viruses is steadily increasing. For example, hepatitis E is increasingly being transmitted via food from infected pigs and wild animals.

The cases of foodborne infections with noro- and hepatitis A viruses are also increasing. To do justice to the growing importance of these viruses, a European Reference Laboratory for foodborne viruses has been created.

Although the detection methods for viruses in food have improved significantly in recent years, there is still a great need for research into how these pathogens are transmitted and what measures can prevent their spread.

Use of antibiotics in animal husbandry is declining

The use of antibiotics in animal husbandry has declined sharply in Germany in recent years. In Germany, the quantities of antimicrobial veterinary medicinal products that have been sold to veterinarians have been recorded since 2011.

Since then, these quantities have decreased continuously from 1,706 tons in 2011 by 57 percent to around 733 tons in 2017, while the production volume of meat continues to increase.

The frequency of therapy with antibiotics also decreases in farm animals in Germany, as the BfR research project VetCAb (Veterinary Consumption of Antibiotics) shows.

Antibiotic resistance for some bacteria in the food chain decreased over the same period.

Fattening poultry as a source of resistant germs

A study for the period from 2009 to 2016 shows that in naturally occurring E. coli in broiler chickens and turkeys, the proportion of resistant germs against the majority of the antibiotics tested in the study has decreased significantly.

In particular, classes of active ingredients that are used in large quantities or frequently in farm animals show a declining trend both in the quantities consumed and in the resistance rates of E. coli.

However, the study also shows that high resistance rates continue to exist in both fattening poultry chains, so that they can continue to be of considerable importance as a source of resistant germs and their resistance genes in humans.

There is no all-clear for the fluoroquinolone antibiotic group. Resistance to these has increased in some types of bacteria in recent years.

For them there was also no clearly decreasing trend in the frequency of therapy. Scientists therefore recommend closely monitoring this trend in the future.

Resistance to reserve agents

Resistance to so-called reserve agents is a particular challenge for the healthcare system. These are used in human medicine when the effectiveness of other antibiotics has already been excluded.

The polypeptide antibiotic colistin is an important representative of the series of reserve active substances. Due to the increase in resistance to other substances, the importance of this active ingredient has been upgraded by the WHO.

However, the substance was one of the most frequently used substances in animal husbandry. Because of their importance, worldwide, coordinated measures are necessary to limit the spread of colistin resistance.

For this, restrictive use of such reserve active ingredients will be imperative in the future. (ad)

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