According to a yet to be revealed research of the Israeli Poultry Council, presented at an internal conference of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary Services, more than 93% of the commercially raised fowl in Israel are infected by the microbe Campylobacter, The Marker reported Wednesday.
Campylobacter causes Campylobacteriosis, a gastrointestinal infection characterized by inflammatory, sometimes bloody diarrhea or dysentery syndrome, including cramps, fever, and pain. Campylobacteriosis is the leading cause of gastrointestinal disease in children in Israel, ahead of Salmonella. In 2013 two children ages 4 and 5 who were infected by Campylobacter and were hospitalized at the Schneider Center for Children Medicine in Petah Tikva suffered from a syndrome that causes partial paralysis.
It’s estimated that the infection is affecting fresh, rather than frozen poultry, because the bug’s survival is poor at low temperatures. But in Israel local retail chains have reported that 90% of purchased poultry is fresh, only 10% frozen. The data were presented by Dr. Anat Weisman of the Poultry Council, based on a year-long research that sampled 47 flocks of chickens in 30 slaughterhouses in January through February, 2015.
The bug passes through undercooked food and dies in sufficient cooking. However, it spreads mainly through environmental infection such as kitchen utensils and adjoining food that are infected during the preparation process: splashed by water used to wash the chicken in the sink; failure to disinfect the food preparation surface; or contact with the food before washing hands.
According to Health Ministry data, Campylobacter was responsible for the majority of gastrointestinal infection cases in recent years. As many as 8,000 cases were reported in 2013, compared with fewer than 3,000 Salmonella cases. The situation is disconcerting because a decade earlier, in 2006, there were reports of only 4,000 cases of Campylobacter infection. It is estimated that each reported case represents from 5 to 10 unreported incidents.
Campylobacter is prevalent in fowl around the world, and different countries have been dealing with it successfully, using means that are yet to be employed in Israel. In the US the occurrence of the bug was reduced to 12.7 cases in 100,000 residents by disinfecting the fresh meat using approved chemicals. Denmark has been able to reduce infestation from 41% to 10% by controlling the flies which are the most common carriers of the bug. In New Zealand they check flocks for the bug and when Campylobacter is found, the meat is frozen, to kill the bug. The UK is the only Western country with infection rates close to Israel’s — 73% of the flocks. A British Agricultural Ministry quarterly reports the infection rates according to the different retail chains.
Israel is yet to undertake any of the above measures, despite the fact that it likely has the worst rate of infection in the Western world.