In 2020, 5,162 illnesses due to Campylobacter were reported. In comparison, there were 906 salmonelloses. The number of reported cases is always lower than the number of cases that actually occurred, because not all of those who fall ill consult a doctor and a microbiological examination of a stool sample is not always carried out. Per year, the number of all campylobacterioses for Austria is estimated at 44,000 (EFSA, 2011).
Campylobacteriosis is a zoonotic bacterial infectious disease and primarily causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. After surviving infection, rare secondary diseases such as reactive arthritis and Guillain-Barré syndrome may occur. According to the European Zoonoses Report, a total of 47 Campylobacter cases with fatal outcome were registered in the EU in 2019 (EFSA & ECDC, 2021).
For the pathogen Campylobacter, chickens are considered the main reservoir. Approximately 50-80% of human cases of disease are attributed to this reservoir and 20-30% of cases of disease are directly associated with the consumption or handling of chicken meat (EFSA, 2011). Transmission of the bacteria to humans can occur through consumption of undercooked poultry meat, consumption of ready-to-eat foods after contact with raw poultry products (i.e., cross-contamination), and direct human-to-human or direct animal-to-human transmission. Other animals, such as cattle, pets, and pigs, can also serve as reservoirs. Other modes of Campylobacter transmission occur through consumption of raw milk and contact with contaminated water (e.g., surface water, drinking water).
Campylobacter prevalence in poultry farms for fattening has remained unchanged for years at 47-60% with a maximum of almost 100% in summer (MATT et al., 2013). In 2008, the EU baseline study detected Campylobacter on 80.6% of broiler carcasses tested in the EU (EFSA, 2010). This baseline study resulted in a process hygiene criterion at slaughterhouses, which came into force in 2018. Campylobacter detection in fresh chicken meat in Austria has been between 60-70% since 2014. Campylobacter is less frequently detectable in frozen chicken meat and chicken meat preparations (various zoonosis reports).
Raw milk may contain Campylobacter due to fecal contamination during milking and is considered a possible cause of disease outbreaks. Nevertheless, the germ is rarely detected in raw milk. Based on a large number of international studies, a linear reduction in health risk is assumed with a corresponding reduction in flock prevalence in broiler chickens. Similarly, hygiene can be optimized in the slaughter process. Additional health risk reduction is expected from interventions at a later stage in the food production chain. A combination of interventions at all levels (primary production, processing, and consumption behavior) led to promising reductions in new cases in some countries, such as Iceland (by 71%) and New Zealand (by 54%), although complete elimination of Campylobacter does not seem possible.
For this reason, in June 2012, experts in human medicine, veterinary medicine and agriculture at the level of provincial and federal authorities as well as expert groups of the social partners were invited by the then Ministry of Health and based on an initiative of AGES to participate in the discussion regarding a feasible way to reduce human Campylobacter disease in Austria. The results were published in the consensus paper (Platform Campylobacter 2012). The results of the discussion at that time are still valid today.