‘Most outbreaks remain undetected’: How the EU is strengthening listeriosis surveillance

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control wants to speed detection of listeria outbreaks ©iStock
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control wants to speed detection of listeria outbreaks ©iStock

Related tags Listeria Listeria monocytogenes European union

New data suggests that the current European surveillance system is failing to detect listeriosis outbreaks quickly and accurately, prompting food safety authorities to re-think their approach to tackling the food borne illness.

More than half of the severe listeriosis cases in the European Union belong to clusters, many of which are not being picked up fast enough by the current surveillance system, according to a new article published in journal Eurosurveillance​.

The study, coordinated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), analysed 2,726 human Listeria monocytogenes isolates from 27 countries between 2010 and 2015.

It found that slightly under 50% of the cases were isolated. The remaining half of cases were clustered together in outbreaks. Around one third of the cases that were identified as part of a cluster affected more than one country, often lasting for several years.

However, only two listeriosis outbreaks were reported in the EU in 2016 and five in 2015. This suggests that many outbreaks have gone undetected, ECDC said.

Faster detection

Through the large-scale study, ECDC looked at listeriosis epidemiology through whole genome sequencing. The organisation found that this method, when implemented at EU-level, could lead to faster detection of multi-country outbreaks.

The authors determined that the use of whole genome sequencing to characterise listeriosis cases at EU-level could speed up the detection of clusters by up to five months, when compared to epidemiological investigation at country level.

A more timely detection of clusters would potentially limit the occurrence of further cases from the same, common food source, ECDC noted.

"This study is a milestone on the way to tackling listeriosis in Europe. With this new collaborative effort with the Member States, we have revealed the related nature of many cases of severe listeriosis. We are now strengthening routine surveillance by introducing the collection and analysis of whole genome sequencing data from all reported human listeriosis cases,”​ said ECDC's chief scientist Mike Catchpole.

Listeriosis is a relatively rare but potentially severe food-borne disease that has been reported in increasing numbers in the EU/EEA countries since 2008. In 2016, 2 536 cases were reported, including 247 deaths.

"Improving our surveillance on Listeria cases will save lives, particularly among vulnerable population groups such as the elderly and also pregnant women, who may pass on the bacteria to the fetus if they consume contaminated food,”​ Catchpole stressed.

Source: Eurosurveillance

Listeria surveillance: New EU-wide study reveals that most outbreaks remain undetecte​d’

Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2018.23.33.1700798

Authors: Ivo Van Walle, Jonas Torgny Björkman, Martin Cormican, Timothy Dallman, Joël Mossong, Alexandra Moura, Ariane Pietzka, Werner Ruppitsch, Johanna Takkinen, European Listeria WGS typing group

Related topics Food safety Food Safety & Quality

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