Zoonoses are diseases and infections naturally transmissible between animals and humans. Transmission may occur via direct contact with an animal or indirect contact with animal excreta (e.g. faeces) present in contaminated food, water or the environment.
Foodborne zoonotic diseases are caused by consuming food or drinking water contaminated by zoonotic pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganisms such as bacteria and their toxins, viruses and parasites. They enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract where the first symptoms often occur. Many of these microorganisms are commonly found in the intestines of healthy food-producing animals.
The risks of contamination are present from farm to fork and require prevention and control throughout the food chain. While it is possible for anybody to become infected with a zoonotic pathogen, certain population groups such as the very young, the elderly and immunocompromised are particularly vulnerable and at greater risk of more serious consequences. The eradication of zoonoses in humans and animals is very challenging.
The impact of zoonoses on the health of humans and animals can however be limited, by (i) monitoring the reservoirs of infectious zoonotic pathogens with a view to understanding and controlling their modes of transfer; (ii) by businesses controlling the hazard along the food chain and; (iii) by educating the public about how to avoid or limit the risk of infection.
The Irish zoonoses report is published annually by the FSAI, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), the Health Service Executive(HSE),the Local Authority Veterinary Service (LAVS), the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority(SFPA) and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
The report brings together the results of thousands of tests carried out on samples of food and feed, as well as tests on material of animal or human origin, in an effort to determine the pattern and extent of infection by zoonotic pathogens transmitted to humans from animals. Zoonoses data collected by EU Member States serve as a basis for the EU to set targets for the reduction of these microorganisms in food-producing animals and foodstuffs.
The impact of the reduction programmes on the actual prevalence of zoonoses in animals and foods and related human health cases are then monitored and analysed in the annual EU summary reports published by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (EFSA and ECDC, 2020).
The data in the 2019 tables for the results of Irish testing carried out in food, animal and animal feed samples are presented in four categories (routine, census, objective and suspect sampling) depending on the sampling context. Routine sampling is planned sampling but does not involve statistically random sampling. Census sampling is when the totality of a population, on which the data are reported, is controlled.
Objective sampling is the planned selection of a random sample, which is statistically representative of the population to be analysed (EFSA, 2020). Suspect sampling is the unplanned selection of a sample whereby the individual units are selected based on the recent judgement and experience regarding the population, lot or sampling frame, e.g., earlier positive samples (EFSA, 2020).
The samples obtained from suspect sampling may have a higher likelihood of having pathogens present.