New strategy targeting foodborne illness

WA Health is launching a new strategy to reduce campylobacteriosis – the State’s most notified foodborne gastrointestinal disease – by educating consumers and working with meat producers to investigate the processes through the supermarket.

Caused by the Campylobacter bacteria, campylobacteriosis cases reached a record high of 4,070 cases in Western Australia last year – almost 30 per cent higher than the previous year.

In 2018, the Department of Heath set up a similar strategy to reduce cases of salmonellosis – a foodborne illness which peaked in 2017 with 2,580 reported cases.

Working together with industry, local governments and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, salmonella infections declined by 64 per cent by 2022.

However, WA Health’s Senior Medical Advisor Communicable Disease Control Dr Paul Effler said while salmonellosis infections were down, campylobacter infections in WA were on the rise.

“We need to act to reduce the burden of campylobacter illness here in WA,” he said.

Dr Effler said Campylobacter is the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis and frequently associated with eating contaminated food, drinking water from contaminated private water supplies or consuming unpasteurised milk.

“It can also be spread by an infected person who is not practising good hand hygiene or from contact with dogs, cats, chickens and farm animals carrying the bacteria,” he said.

“People infected with Campylobacter will commonly get diarrhoea, cramping, nausea, vomiting and fever which can last up to 10 days.

“On average 10% of cases are hospitalised and in rare cases, Campylobacter can also cause more serious long-term diseases.”

Foodborne campylobacteriosis can be easily prevented by handling meat safely in the home kitchen, especially chicken meat. Don’t wash raw meats, cook them thoroughly, and prevent potential cross-contamination between uncooked meat and ready-to-eat foods and food preparation areas.

The new health strategy aims to better understand the risks of acquiring Campylobacter infection in the community and taking steps to better manage food safety across the entire food supply chain – from primary production all the way through to consumers.

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