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Global experts address virus outbreak challenges

Discuss prevention and reduction measures

| | Mar 12, 2012 | 6:44 pm
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Discuss prevention and reduction measures

Day 2 of DIFSC saw eminent virologists debating key challenges in microbiological testing.

In a session titled “Worldwide Circulation of Foodborne Viruses: What about Virus Prevention, Detection Methods and GHP for Food borne Virus Control?” and held in Abu Dhabi Ballroom A of the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre, Dr Fabienne Loisy-Harmon from the Centre Européen d’Expertise et de Recherche sur les Agents Microbiens (CERAAM), France, revealed that viruses, particularly norovirus and hepatitis A (HAV), are the first cause of disease outbreaks.

She went on to describe a number of HAV cases linked to dried and semi-dried tomato consumption, as well as cases of norovirus infection from lettuce and oysters.

Pointing out the differences between bacteria and viruses, she explained that viruses are only a few nanometers long and, unlike bacteria, which can easily be cultivated, most viruses can’t be cultivated.

The most common form of gastroenteritis is originated from norovirus, she said.

In the USA alone, nearly 23 million cases of norovirus infection have been annually reported.

The virus spreads through human waste, which can contaminate water used for irrigation, which results in food contamination.

Sterilisation offers good results in terms of virus elimination, while pasteurisation has various effects.

However, freezing and lyophilisation have proven ineffective in killing the virus, she pointed out.

She added that sugar has a protective effect against the virus, as clinical studies have proven that the higher the concentration of sugar, the lower the concentration of the virus.

Genomic detection is currently the most effective method of virus detection.

She concluded her presentation advocating an integrated approach in the fight against viruses, which would include risk assessment of the matrices, evaluation of the countries of origin, risk measurement and analytical surveillance plan.

The session continued with a talk by Courage Kosi Setsoafia Saba from the University of Madrid, who illustrated his research project on “Phylogenetic and Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis Characterisation of E.coli in street foods in Ghana”.

The results of the project, which was carried out in 2010, highlighted the importance of educating farmers and street vendors on food safety principles.

Mr Saba argued that indiscriminate use of antibiotics in poultry feeds increases antibiotics resistance in humans.

Later, Dr Hamid Mohamed Ibrahim from Dubai Central Laboratory addressed the issue of “Detection and Prevention of Listeria Monocytogenes in Food”.

He pointed that humans, animals and the environment serve as reservoirs of listeria, which is normally found in soil and water, but can be killed by pasteurisation and proper cooking.

Listeriosis is a serious infection which is more likely to affect pregnant women, accounting for about 30% of annual cases worldwide.

These, in turn, can infect the fetus, which may lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects.

The afternoon session was opened by Sulhattin Yasar from Suleyman Demirel University, Turkey, who described the “European Union Risk Evaluation Process on Safety of Chemical Additives used in Animal Nutrition.”

He pointed out that chemical additives are subject to extensive controls and assessments by a number of EU agencies before entering the European market and emphasised the importance of risk assessment, safety evaluation and official controls.

Dr Anwar Saad from Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, UAE, presented findings from “Surveillance of E.Coli O157 during 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 in Chilled Mince Meat sold in Abu Dhabi”.

The study showed that, following the implementation of the HACCP protocol, the incidence of contaminated minced meat was dramatically reduced.

Joseph Russell, Health Officer from Flathead City-County Health Department, USA, concluded the session, discussing the role of environmental health in a foodborne outbreak response.

A successful foodborne outbreak response, he said, requires a coordinated effort, which involves environmental health, epidemiology, laboratory and law enforcement.

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