Europe sees large drop in E. coli infections in 2020

According to recently published data, the number of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections in Europe fell sharply in 2020.

In 2020, 4,824 confirmed STEC infections were reported. This is down from 8,339 in 2019. STEC infection is primarily acquired through eating contaminated food or water and coming into contact with animals or their feces.

Data on STEC infections were reported by 29 countries. Reporting is voluntary in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Spain, or based on a different type of system in Italy.

Germany with 1,409 and Ireland with 734 had the most infections with 44 percent of all cases. The highest country-specific reporting rates were recorded in Ireland, Malta, Denmark and Norway.

Data on HUS cases and type of E. coli
The 0 to 4 year age group represented 1,326 of the 4,819 patients for whom age information was available.

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A total of 39 percent of 1,957 STEC patients with information were hospitalized and 14 people died. Most deaths occurred in people over the age of 65, with a third of them suffering from haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a form of kidney failure.

Of 324 HUS cases, the majority were in the 0 to 4 or 5 to 14 age group, with a mortality rate of 2 percent.

Most HUS cases caused by O26 were reported by France, Italy and Ireland, with the first two basing their surveillance of STEC infections on the detection of HUS cases.

The five most common serogroups were O26, O157, O103, O145 and O146. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), there has been an increasing trend in STEC O26 over the past five years, while STEC O157 infections have been decreasing over the same period.

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There were 34 outbreaks involving 208 people in nine countries. Two outbreaks were caused by tap or well water and one each by meat products, dairy products other than cheese and cheese made from cow’s milk. STEC O157 was behind three outbreaks, two were associated with STEC O145 and STEC O26 caused one.

In the five-year period from 2015 to 2019, the overall trend in reported STEC cases has increased. In 2020, however, infections dropped significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the absence of numbers from the UK.

Brucella infections hit record low
Brucella infections also fell from 314 in 2019 to 134 in 2020.

Brucellosis occurs when people come into contact with infected animals or consume contaminated animal products such as unpasteurized milk and dairy products or undercooked meat.

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Brucellosis data have been reported from 28 countries. In Denmark it is neither notifiable nor monitored. Reporting is mandatory in other EU countries, but in Belgium it is based on a different type of system.

Greece, France, Germany and Italy had the most confirmed cases. Greece had the highest rate, followed by Portugal and Sweden. In Sweden, all cases with information related to travel.

Almost two-thirds of the 129 brucellosis cases with reported information were hospitalized and two were fatal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the number of infections reported in 2020, with cases falling to the lowest level since EU-level surveillance began in 2007, ECDC said.

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