Photo: Mikkel Adsbøl

Chicken still main source of campylobacter infections in Denmark

Wednesday 13 Dec 17


Sara Monteiro Pires
Senior Researcher
National Food Institute
+45 40 21 34 89

Almost half of all campylobacter infections in Denmark are caused by consumption of domestic chicken meat, but dogs and contaminated seawater also cause a smaller proportion of cases.

Campylobacter is the leading cause of foodborne infections in Denmark. A total of 4,677 campylobacter infections were registered in 2016, but these are only the tip of the iceberg: estimates suggest that for every registered case of campylobacter, another 12 cases go unreported.

Researchers from the National Food Institute have produced a report for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, which show what proportion of cases acquired in Denmark can be attributed to eight different food and environmental sources. Government and industry will use these data when designing the next Action Plan on Campylobacter. 

New sources identified

Consumption of domestic chicken meat continues to be the most important source accounting for 46% of campylobacter infections acquired in Denmark, followed by cattle (beef, milk or direct contact), which accounts for 19% of cases and consumption of imported chicken meat (9%). Contact with dogs and exposure to contaminated seawater each account for approximately 4% of infections. Previous source accounts have not established dogs or seawater sources as contributors of illness.

A campylobacter infection usually causes a few days of illness with symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and fever. In some cases, the infection may lead to arthritis later on in life or irritable bowel syndrome. In rare cases it can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes the body’s immune system to attack the nervous system.

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The source attribution figures are based on a comprehensive data set collected by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration in cooperation with the Statens Serum Institut and the University of Copenhagen over more than two years. Samples have been analyzed using DNA-sequencing in order to link the samples to sources of illness. More sources have been analyzed than in previous Danish source accounts.

See the full report on the National Food Institute’s website: Source attribution of Campylobacter infections in Denmark (pdf). The report has been prepared for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration as part of a political agreement.

As consumption of undercooked contaminated chicken meat and poor food handling are the most common causes of campylobacter infection, consumers play an important role in avoiding illness. Watch a video from the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, which outlines practical steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick.

Facts about campylobacter infections

Campylobacter is the foodborne bacteria that contributes most to the burden of disease in Denmark.

The burden of disease is reported in DALYs, which stands for disability adjusted life years. DALYs are a measure of how many years of life the total Danish population loses when people have to live with a reduced quality of life and/or die earlier than expected due to disease.

The National Food Institute estimates that the actual number of campylobacter infections was more than 55,000 cases in 2016 – 12 times the number of reported cases. The burden of disease from these infections has been calculated at around 2,000 DALYs.