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Study: Climate Change May Impact Outbreaks

The transmission of foodborne pathogens may be impacted by the effects of climate change, according to a report released March 28 by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Studying hundreds of peer-reviewed publications on six different food- and waterborne pathogens, the report’s authors observed 1,653 “key facts” that link the viability of those pathogens to a range of climatic variables such as air temperature, water temperature and precipitation. The pathogens under study included Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Norovirus, Cryptosporidium and non-cholera Vibrio.

Campylobacter, the most prevalent foodborne pathogen in Europe, shows a strong seasonal variability, leading researchers to believe its peak infection rates may rise or shift in response to rising global air and water temperatures. Salmonella infection rates were also strongly associated with air temperature.

But the authors also noted that despite its connection to seasonal changes in temperature, Salmonella infections have declined in Europe in the last decade, likely in part due to ramped up public health efforts. The decline gives the authors hope that any effects of climate change on foodborne illness might be counteracted with carefully implemented health promotion and food safety policies.

Cryptosporidium outbreaks may be linked to rainfall events, though the connection varies by region. On the other hand, seasonal variations showed little effect on Listeria, likely due to the bacteria being more temperature resistant than others such as Salmonella and E. coli.

A lack of published information on Norovirus makes any link between it and climate variations tenuous, while the authors found a strong association between rising water temperatures and extended summer season with non-cholera Vibrio inefections — though the bacteria accounts for relatively few infections in Europe to begin with.

The authors noted in their conclusion that each of the six pathogens under study showed some type of relationship with climate variations, though Campylobacter and Salmonella demonstrated the strongest associations. The report was limited to peer-reviewed literature written in English and German, and was also limited by the information available on each pathogen.

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