EUROPE – The European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned that the threat posed by climate change on foodborne infections is on the rise.

In a report on climate change in Europe, the agency stated that there is a need to go from planning to action and to raise awareness among public health and healthcare professionals.

Vibriosis was among the infectious diseases that were examined in one chapter as climate-sensitive concerns in Europe.

Additionally, it revealed which demographics are most at risk and included a summary of protective measures.

The climatic conditions or extreme weather events like heavy rain and flooding have an impact on the frequency of epidemics of various vector-, food-, or waterborne diseases.

According to the paper, climate-sensitive infectious illnesses will continue to expand northward and result in a greater disease burden in Europe as shifting environmental factors make it easier for them to originate and spread.

Along the Baltic Sea coasts, for example, warming seas are also becoming more hospitable to the Vibrio bacteria that are present in fish and shellfish.

Vibrio is a bacteria that can cause significant illness and develops incredibly well in warm, moderately salty water. Vibriosis is not a disease that must be reported in the EU.

E.coli, salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, and campylobacteriosis are other water- and food-borne illnesses that are significant in Europe.

While increased temperatures are predicted to have an influence on all of them, Campylobacter is affected by heavy rain in addition to other factors, whereas E. coli is more affected by flooding.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) identified and made an effort to quantify certain existing and projected food safety risks related to climate change in a paper in 2020.

The risks included pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, toxic algal blooms, foodborne infections and parasites, and insecticides.

During transit, storage, and handling, high air temperatures can have a negative impact on the quality of food.

Surveillance to aid in early alerts

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the disruption of electrical, refrigeration, and cooking systems brought on by flooding or power outages during heatwaves, severe storms, or wildfires may make it easier for foodborne illnesses to spread, especially during the hot summer months.

The agency opined that severe floods can increase the likelihood of food- and water-borne infections in the short, medium, and long term because they may cause animal faeces in soil or sewage to flow over the land, into buildings, or water systems, increasing the likelihood that people will come into contact with viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can cause diseases.

The EEA paper concluded that effective surveillance and monitoring of species that harbor or spread these illnesses would aid in the creation of early alerts and more precisely targeted interventions.

The public and health professionals need to be made more aware of the risks posed by infectious diseases that are climate-sensitive as well as available preventative measures, reports Food Safety News.

John Ryan, Deputy Director-General of DG Sante at the European Commission, said diseases including foodborne infections are a challenge exacerbated by increases in climate events.

“From the Commission’s point of view, having a One Health approach is important, so we don’t find ourselves with zoonotic diseases transferring to humans for which we might not be in a position to react in time.

“It is important we have an alert, a preparedness and response system which takes account of this One Health approach,” he said, during a webinar to launch the report.

He highlighted that COVID drove the Commission to launch the EU health union as a way of reinforcing the ECDC.

“We have reinforced the cross-border health threats regulation. It has a strong component of prevention and preparedness planning. It also has an aspect related to surveillance and coordinated response between member states.

“This will include future environmental and bio-chemical threats. As part of the EU Green Deal, through the farm-to-fork strategy, we have tried to propose ideas for a sustainable food system that helps to mitigate the effects of climate change,” he said.

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