A European system used by countries to report outbreaks saw a record number of alerts in 2019.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) hosts the Epidemic Intelligence Information System for food- and waterborne diseases (EPIS-FWD) platform. The network is a restricted web-based platform for experts to help with early detection and coordination of response to multi-country outbreaks through sharing information.

It consists of Urgent Inquiries and associated forums, which are the outbreak alert and investigation tools. The forums allow information to be shared about the outbreak investigation among a restricted number of experts. Nominated people outside the EPIS-FWD network, such as food safety and environmental experts or veterinarians from network countries or any expert or organization outside the network can also be invited to join.

In 2019, 88 Urgent Inquiries were initiated by 23 of the 52 network countries and one by ECDC. On average, 11 countries replied to each alert and 31 replied to at least one.

A record high
The number of Urgent Inquiries in 2019 was the highest since the platform was launched and 54 percent higher than the annual average in the past five years. In previous years, an annual mean of 57 Urgent Inquiries was published.

An ECDC spokesman told Food Safety News that the record number was good news.

“This reflects probably two aspects; one is the introduction of Whole Genome Sequencing as a tool to enhance surveillance to detect and investigate outbreaks leading to a much higher probability to detect the source and implement control measures. WGS enables also efficient follow up of effectiveness of control measures as new cases can be detected through WGS relatively rapidly, and two; increased sequencing capacity in member states and subsequent network participation,” he said.

Urgent Inquiries were related to salmonellosis (44 percent), followed by listeriosis (23 percent), Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) (12 percent) infection, and hepatitis A (9 percent).

“The number of listeriosis clusters has increased substantially after the introduction of WGS-enhanced surveillance in March 2019 but molecular epidemiology of Salmonella is more complex and challenging, even with the support of WGS. However, Salmonella is a much more common infection in humans than severe Listeria infection, which means usually more risk assessments related to Salmonella than to Listeria,” said the ECDC spokesman.

Monitoring threats and outbreak assessments
In 2019, ECDC opened and monitored 58 new threats in the threat tracking tool in addition to the 12 carried over from previous years. This is less than the 71 issues monitored in 2018. Of threats opened and monitored in 2019, 38 affected European countries.

Nine involved food and waterborne diseases compared to eight in 2018. One example is related to the difficulty to control Salmonella Enteritidis in poultry products, particularly eggs.

In 2019, ECDC and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) produced three joint rapid outbreak assessments. One due to Salmonella Poona in infant formula, another because of Listeria in cold-smoked fish and the last one a Listeria outbreak in ready to eat meat products.

So far this year, one has been published updating the multi-country outbreak of Salmonella linked to eggs from Poland and another is planned with EFSA on a multi-country outbreak of Salmonella linked to Brazil nuts involving the United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Canada.

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