There was no major difference in the number of foodborne infections reported before and during the Coronavirus pandemic, according to researchers in Brazil.

The study looked at data on notifications of foodborne disease in Brazil in 2018 and 2019, defined as before, and in 2020 and 2021, classed as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The expectation, considering the social isolation measures adopted, which closed schools, restaurants, and other establishments considered non-essential, was that the study would show a significant difference in notifications and cases, as had been seen in other countries.

In Brazil, past data showed 7,630 outbreaks between 2007 and 2017, with 134,046 people sick, 19,394 hospitalizations, and 127 deaths. However, few Brazilian states and municipalities have related statistics and data.

Data from the National System of Notifiable Diseases was analyzed, evaluating the overall incidence rate, lethality and mortality, contamination sites, and criteria for confirming the etiological agent.

From 2018 to 2021, 2,206 foodborne disease cases were registered. The case fatality rate was 0.5 percent in both periods. The incidence rate was 6.48 per 100,000 inhabitants before and 3.92 per 100,000 inhabitants during the pandemic, according to the study published in the journal Nutrients.

Outbreak settings varied
The expectation was that because of the lockdown, most incidents during the pandemic would be domestic cases, as reflected in the data. Domestic outbreaks represented about 40 percent of incidents, which scientists said shows the importance of campaigns and other measures to reduce these events.

Data showed a significant difference between before and during the pandemic for the type of test and criteria used to confirm outbreaks. There was an increase in clinical laboratory tests and clinical reports for bromatology.

Scientists said Brazil continues to face problems in controlling foodborne diseases, as seen by data in the study. The size of the country prevents inspection actions in all food-producing establishments and homes, as well as a lack of training and awareness among the staff responsible for filling in surveillance forms. 

There was no significant difference in the number of reports before and during the pandemic. However, when the two periods were compared, there was a big difference in where outbreaks occurred, with a reduction in cases at social events and an increase in reports at hospitals and health units.

“The increase in notifications in hospitals and health units demonstrates the need to improve the knowledge, attitudes, and food safety practices of food handlers and health professionals as they deal with vulnerable patients with potential health risks,” said researchers.

Study limitations included the short timeframe of four years of data, as well as the reliability of the records, plus the fact that foodborne disease cases are often underreported.

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