COVID-19 measures accompany decline of foodborne infections

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There has been a drastic decrease in reported diseases including foodborne infections in Germany during the Coronavirus outbreak, according to an analysis.

Robert Koch Institute (RKI) experts found the COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health measures are impacting the occurrence and recording of other reportable infectious diseases.

Experts analyzed the effects of the pandemic and health actions on notifiable diseases in Germany. Those younger than 14 years of age and above 80 were particularly affected.

They looked at cases of notifiable infectious diseases that were submitted to the Robert Koch Institute between January 2016 and August 2020.

The change in the number of cases from the start of March 2020 to early August 2020, classed as the COVID-19 pandemic for purposes of the study, were compared to data from January 2016 through the end of February 2020, which was before the outbreak.

Conclusions back-up results from an analysis in Australia that found diseases, including foodborne infections, declined after public health measures were introduced because of the pandemic.

Foodborne decline
A total of 32 infectious diseases were included in RKI’s analysis. Gastrointestinal infections showed a significant decrease compared to previous years.

Rotavirus gastroenteritis and shigellosis were down 83.3 percent and 82.9 percent, respectively, and 78.7 percent fewer cases were reported for norovirus gastroenteritis.

There were also decreases in cryptosporidiosis down 52.4 percent, E. coli 46.4 percent, salmonellosis 45.4 percent, hepatitis A 36.7 percent, campylobacteriosis 22.2 percent, listeriosis 21.8 percent and hepatitis E and Yersiniosis both 7 down percent.

Experts said restricted contact, social distancing and hygiene rules, and school and daycare closures could have impacted the transmission of gastrointestinal infectious diseases.

Reasons for the decline are complex, pathogen-specific and cannot be clarified by the reporting data. Epidemiological factors such as seasonality can influence the frequency and transmission of some infectious diseases.

As well as an actual decline in infectious diseases, other factors could have led to changes in the number of reported cases. Such as people’s behavior, the frequency of tests and reduced travel.

The only disease that increased during the studied period was tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). This was attributed to the annual tick population and virus prevalence while increased outdoor activities by the public may have also contributed to the rise.

Austrian norovirus example
Another earlier analysis, by specialists at the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), found measures to tackle the pandemic led to a sharp reduction in norovirus cases in the country.

Closure of communal facilities, increased hygiene measures and reduced visits to the doctor for gastrointestinal complaints are factors behind the decline of reported cases, the specialists reported.

Norovirus outbreaks with a large number of illnesses occur again and again, especially in community facilities such as schools, kindergartens, hospitals and senior citizens’ residences.

Norovirus occurs more frequently in the winter months. Data from monthly reports by the Federal Ministry for Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection (BMASGK) show more than 100 cases in November and more than 200 in December 2019 but hardly any reports of infections in November and December 2020.

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