NEARLY ONE in three foodborne outbreaks in the European Union in 2018 were caused by Salmonella.

That was one of the main findings of the annual report on trends and sources of zoonoses published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

In 2018, EU Member States reported 5146 foodborne outbreaks affecting 48,365 people. A foodborne disease outbreak is defined as an incident during which at least two people contract the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink.

Slovakia, Spain and Poland accounted for 67% of the 1,581 Salmonella outbreaks. Those outbreaks were mainly linked to eggs.

“Findings from our latest Eurobarometer show that less than one third of European citizens rank food poisoning from bacteria among their top five concerns when it comes to food safety. The number of reported outbreaks suggests that there’s room for raising awareness among consumers as many foodborne illnesses are preventable by improving hygiene measures when handling and preparing food,” said EFSA’s chief scientist Marta Hugas.

Salmonellosis was the second most commonly reported gastrointestinal infection in humans in the EU (91,857 cases reported), after campylobacteriosis (246,571).

But by far the highest increase in 2018 was in the number of West Nile virus infections. Cases of this mosquito-borne zoonotic disease were seven times higher than in 2017 (1605 versus 212) and exceeded all cases reported between 2011 and 2017.

“The reasons for the peak in 2018 are not fully understood yet," said ECDC chief scientist Mike Catchpole. "Factors like temperature, humidity or rainfall have been shown to influence seasonal activity of mosquitoes and may have played a role. While we cannot predict how intense the next transmission seasons will be, we know that the West Nile virus is actively circulating in many countries in the EU, affecting humans, horses and birds. ECDC is stepping up its support to countries in the areas of surveillance, preparedness, communication and vector control."

Most locally acquired West Nile virus infections were reported by Italy (610), Greece (315) and Romania (277). Czechia and Slovenia reported their first cases since 2013.