Campylobacter spp. are recognised as the most common causes of foodborne disease in developed countries. In Scotland figures from Health Protection Scotland (HPS) show over 6000 reported cases of Campylobacter infection in 2009 (Click here for pdf of HPS Surveillance Report “Gastro-intestinal and foodborne infections”).
Campylobacter infection is approximately 25-fold more common than E. coli O157/VTEC and more than 7-fold more frequent than Salmonella infections. Similar relative prevalences are observed elsewhere in the UK (Click here for link to Health Protection Agency website page on gastrointestinal diseases) and a recent European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) report shows similar trends across Europe (click here for pdf of EFSA Report on "Trends and sources of zoonoses, zoonotic agents and foodborne outbreaks in the European Union in 2008”).
C. jejuni is the most predominant cause of foodborne infection (around 90%) with C. coli causing most of the remainder (Click here for pdf of 2009 Food Standards Agency Report on Camplyobacter survey in Scotland)
As well as causing foodborne diarrhoea, some Campylobacter are causes of reproductive disease particularly in ruminants. For instance, C. fetus subsp. fetus is the third commonest cause of abortion in sheep (after Chlamydophila abortus and Toxoplasma gondii;) Click here for link to Veterinary Investigation Surveillance Report (VIDA) website.
Many Campylobacters reside harmlessly in the gastrointestinal tracts of animals and birds. The commonest source of human Campylobacter infections is poultry in which these bacteria do not normally cause disease. Human infection usually occurs as a result of consuming undercooked meat or other contaminated foodstuffs although other sources are implicated. Recent studies have indicated that cattle are likely to be a significant source of Campylobacter infection. In humans infection can result in a well-established spectrum of diarrhoeal disease with symptoms ranging from mild, watery diarrhoea to severe, dysentery-like inflammatory diarrhoea. In a small minority of cases further complications – notably Guillain-Barré Syndrome - may arise.
Despite their significance as pathogens, much remains undetermined as to how Campylobacters colonise reservoir hosts, survive in the food chain and cause disease in humans. Reducing the risk to public health posed by Campylobacter species is a high priority for many agencies and other bodies; for example, The Food Standards Agency Scotland held a dissemination and workshop event which identified a series of research priorities including the need for an improved understanding of Campylobacter survival and pathogenesis to support efforts towards reducing disease incidence. Click here for pdf of report highlighting FSA funded Campylobacter research.
We commenced our investigations of Campylobacter only recently and we work collaboratively with colleagues at the Universities of Glasgow, Liverpool & Cambridge, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University of Arhus (Denmark) and others.
Our work aims to:
- use proteomics and other phenotypic approaches to characterise Campylobacters to differentiate strains and assess their pathogenic potential;
- characterise bacterial pathogenicity factors using genomic, proteomic and phenotypic approaches;
- determine the effects of infection on the function and immune responses of hosts.
Together, these approaches advance the understanding of Campylobacter and will assist by defining targets for reducing risk and improving control.
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