Deaths from foodborne diseases are underestimated

February 13, 2003

The number of deaths from foodborne diseases is likely to be underestimated, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers in Denmark identified 48,857 people infected with the bacteria Salmonella, Campylobacter, Yersinia enterocolitica or Shigella plus 487,138 controls from the general population.

A total of 1,071 (2.2%) of people with gastrointestinal infections died within one year after infection compared with 3,636 (0.7%) of controls. Risk of death was three times higher among patients infected with one of the four bacteria.

Most foodborne gastrointestinal infections are self limiting, say the authors. However, in a subset of patients they can cause severe complications and increased risk of death.

Infections with all these bacteria were associated with an increased short term risk of death, even after pre-existing illnesses were taken into account. Salmonella, Campylobacter, Yersinia enterocolitica infections were also associated with increased long term mortality.

Current estimates of the burden of foodborne diseases underestimate the number of deaths from bacterial infections, they conclude.


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