Photo: Mikkel Adsbøl

The real burden of disease for a number of foodborne diseases

Thursday 14 May 20

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

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Lea Sletting Jakobsen
Researcher
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 75 62

The National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, has estimated how many Danes actually get sick from seven different disease-causing microorganisms that are commonly transmitted through food. Their calculations e.g. show that 12 times as many people get a campylobacter infection as official health records show.

Even in countries such as Denmark with robust disease surveillance systems, the actual number of people that get sick from a number of diseases is unknown because official statistics do not capture nearly all illness cases. This is e.g. because of course not all those who fall ill will go see a doctor if their symptoms are mild and fleeting. 

By correcting for underreporting and underdiagnosis, researchers at the National Food Institute have estimated the real burden of disease in Denmark related to seven disease-causing microorganisms that are commonly transmitted through food. Their calculations e.g. show that 12 times as many people get a campylobacter infection as official health records show.

The work was conducted in cooperation with colleagues from Statens Serum Institut. The researchers' calculations provide the authorities with comparable – and as such better – data on the impact the diseases in question have on society.

Calculations of the burden of disease for different diseases

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 combined Danish population loses when people have to live with the disease and/or die earlier than expected due to the disease.

Norovirus - which causes vomiting and diarrhea for a day or two - results in a very high number of DALYs. This is because many people get sick every year (185,060 cases in 2017), but the burden of disease at the individual level is small.

By contrast, toxoplasmosis - which is caused by a parasite that can lead to birth defects when a pregnant woman becomes infected - causes fewer DALYs, because the burden of disease is very high for the infected people, but only a very small number of people are infected.

For more results from the study, watch this short animation from the National Food Institute.

 

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The researchers’ calculations are described in further detail in a scientific article in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease: Burden of Disease Estimates of Seven Pathogens Commonly Transmitted Through Foods in Denmark, 2017.

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