Salmonella is no longer the most common cause of food poisoning in the EU, according to a new report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which revealed campylobacter was responsible for more cases of animal infection in humans.
According to EFSA's infectious diseases report, infections of campylobacteriosis, which normally comes from poultry meat, went up 7.8% in 2005. Campylobacteriosis now has an incidence rate of 51.6 cases per 100,000 people, with a total of 197,363 recorded cases; salmonella infections, meanwhile, have fallen by 9.5% to an incidence rate of 38.2 per 100,000 with 176,395 recorded cases.
The report also suggested that the bug is becoming increasingly resilient to treatment. Data on campylobacter that originated from farm animals indicated it was more than 80% resistant to the most widely used antibiotics.
"This is a growing area of concern for public health specialists, as this important reservoir of antimicrobial resistance might compromise effective treatment of these diseases," said the report.
Dr Hugh Pennington, professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, confirmed that campylobacter was now the most common bacterial cause of food poisoning in the UK. He said it was much more difficult to control than salmonella, where biosecurity measures and vaccines for poultry had dramatically improved our ability to limit outbreaks.
"Disinfectants in the workplace don't work as well on campylobacter as they do for salmonella, and there isn't a vaccine," said Pennington. "We also don't know where people get it from.
"We know it's in chicken carcasses but we don't know what proportion of human cases are from that source - we can't fingerprint the bug like we can salmonella."
There was unlikely to be a sudden breakthrough in beating the bug, he said.
"It will just be a case of steady progress - getting people to wash their hands and practise good kitchen hygiene."
EFSA's report also provided data on other zoonotic diseases, including listeriosis, which, although rare compared to campylobacter and salmonella, was still a major public health concern, it said.
Listeriosis affected relatively few people (1,439 reported cases in Europe in 2005), but the death rate was high and it could cause miscarriage.
The full report is available from the EFSA website at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/science/monitoring_zoonoses_report_2005.html