One-Third of Campy Outbreaks Traced to Poultry

AUSTRALIA - In a study of 33 human cases of food poisoning caused by campylobacter between 2001 and 2006, poultry meat was the likely source in 11 cases.
calendar icon 16 November 2009
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L.E. Unicomb of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University in Canberra and co-authors are to publish a paper investigating cases of food-borne disease caused by Campylobacter in Australia in a forthcoming issues of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease.

The researchers explain that the objective of their study was to examine the frequency of Campylobacter outbreaks in Australia and determine common transmission routes and vehicles. Summary and unit data on Campylobacter outbreaks that occurred between January 2001 and December 2006 were systematically collected and analysed. Data from Campylobacter mandatory notifications for the same period were used for comparison.

During the study period, 33 Campylobacter outbreaks were reported, affecting 457 persons. Of these, 147 (32 per cent) had laboratory-confirmed infections, constituting 0.1 per cent of notified Campylobacter cases. Campylobacter outbreaks most commonly occurred during the Australian spring (September to November; n=14, 45 per cent), when notifications generally peaked.

Transmission was predominantly food-borne or suspected food-borne (n=27, 82 per cent), commercial settings (n=15, 55 per cent) being most commonly involved. There were eight food-borne outbreaks (30 per cent) attributed to food prepared or eaten at institutions; four (15 per cent) at aged care facilities and three (11 per cent) at school camps.

A vehicle or suspected vehicle was determined for 16 (59 per cent) food-borne outbreaks; poultry (chicken or duck) was associated with 11 (41 per cent) of these, unpasteurised milk and salad were associated with two outbreaks each. Three potential waterborne outbreaks were detected, and one was due to person-to-person transmission.

Campylobacter outbreaks were more commonly detected during this study period compared to a previous six-year period (n=9) when prospective recording of information was not undertaken. However, outbreak cases continue to constitute a very small proportion of notifications.

Improved recognition through sub-typing is required to enhance outbreak detection and investigation so as to aid policy formulation for prevention of infection. In addition to detection of chicken as a common source of outbreaks, these data highlight the importance of directing policy at commercial premises, aged care facilities, and school camps to reduce Campylobacter disease burden.


Unicomb L.E., K.E. Fullerton, M.D. Kirk and R.J. Stafford. 2009. Outbreaks of Campylobacteriosis in Australia, 2001 to 2006. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/fpd.2009.0300

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