Foreign travel linked to a third of intestinal pathogen disease in Canada

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A recent report out of Canada shows Salmonella and Campylobacter as the top two pathogens involved in intestinal diseases in the country, with retail meats as one of the likely sources.

FoodNet Canada, a program within the Public Health Agency of Canada, complied the data used for its annual report from its surveillance program. Officials collected the data in 2019. “Sentinel sites” in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario provided the data. The report also includes preliminary findings from Quebec for part of the year. Quebec officials did not begin the program until July 2019.

In addition to retail meats, water and manure from food producing animals, the data showed travel as a common denominator in terms of intestinal pathogen disease rates. Thirty percent of all confirmed patients were associated with travel outside of Canada.

The report focuses on trends in intestinal pathogen disease rates, as well as trends in the prevalence of these pathogens found on the three potential disease sources.

Other key findings

  • Sources such as farm environments and water can be responsible for infections, with differences noted between the sites. For example, Salmonella is commonly found in broiler chicken manure, however, the prevalence significantly increased in British Columbia but significantly decreased in the Alberta site in 2019. This resulted in an overall significant decrease in the combined sites, according to the report.
  • The majority of clinical cases of shigatoxigenic E. coli (STEC) were domestically acquired in 2019. There was a significant increase in both travel and endemic incidence rates, primarily driven by the Alberta sentinel site where all STEC-confirmed stool samples for non-O157 serogroups are tested.
  • In 2019, surface water sampling was initiated for the first time in the Ontario site for STEC testing. The prevalence of STEC in that site, at 27 percent, was similar to the combined British Columbia and Alberta irrigation water prevalence in 2019, which was 28 percent.

“Continued monitoring of human illness and the potential exposures is important to ensure the continued health and safety of Canadians. “The collection and integration of information across all of FoodNet Canada surveillance components — human, retail, on-farm, and water — in an enhanced and standardized way allows for the analysis of subtype distributions among human cases and potential exposure sources over time,” according to the report’s authors. 

“This report will be followed by a comprehensive annual report, which will include more extensive analyses of temporal trends and subtyping information for an integrated perspective on enteric disease from exposure to illness.”

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