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Joint efforts to control diseases transmitted from animals to humans

30/2009, 17.11.2009

BfR Symposium on Zoonoses and Food Safety

Around 200 scientists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland came together at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Berlin to discuss the current situation in the field of zoonoses, control strategies and prevention. Zoonosis control is dependent on close cooperation between health and veterinary authorities. "In order to avoid and effectively control zoonoses, there must be close cooperation between the fields of human health, animal health and the environment", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. The example of the joint initiative on antibiotic resistances shows that this can work.

Zoonoses are diseases that can jump from animals to humans or vice versa. The main sources of human infection are contaminated food, in particular poultry, eggs, egg products and dishes containing raw eggs. In Germany Campylobacter and Salmonella are the most frequent cause of bacterial gastro-intestinal infections in humans.

Various stakeholders are involved in elucidating the cause of outbreaks of this kind amongst the population: public health authorities, food control bodies and other inspection agencies. The experts at the symposium felt there was an urgent need to move beyond the separate consideration of human and veterinary medicine, agriculture and the environment. Scientific and political circles should take note of this by handling these areas in an interdisciplinary manner and looking for joint solutions. Examples for this kind of joint approach were given during the symposium.

The German Antibiotic Resistance Strategy (DART) - a joint initiative of the Federal Ministry of Health, the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection and the Ministry of Education and Science - aims to tackle the problem of the growing antibiotic resistances of pathogens in a joint manner. At the symposium the first results of the initiatives and further plans were discussed. It was demonstrated that it is possible to monitor the use of medicinal products in agriculture and that the networking of laboratories and public authorities facilitates the improved systematic and ongoing monitoring of the antibiotic resistance of pathogens and commensals on a broad basis.

Some success has already been achieved in the field of strategies to control zoonotic agents in the food chain. Elsewhere, however, there is still a need for major research in order to develop the suitable tools, for instance in order to effectively control Campylobacter. Everyone bears responsibility for reducing foodborne infections in humans: farmers by reducing the pathogens in the animal stocks, the food industry by using consistent concepts in order to reduce the migration and ensuing contamination of food, and consumers by storing food chilled and correctly applying kitchen hygiene rules.