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New research improves understanding of campylobacter infection in Scotland

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has published new research on campylobacter - the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning in Scotland - which provides important new evidence on those at greater risk of infection and severe illness, and the estimated healthcare cost of infection.

The research, conducted between 2013 and 2019, was undertaken by Health Protection Scotland and the University of Aberdeen on behalf of FSS. It confirmed that a higher number of cases are reported in more affluent areas of Scotland, with cases living in the most deprived areas at an increased risk of developing serious illness and being hospitalised.   

The results showed that overall, around 14% of campylobacter cases lead to hospitalisation, with hospital admissions more likely to have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • being 65 years or older
  • having an underlying medical condition  
  • being prescribed with proton pump inhibitor to reduce stomach acid production in the 90 days prior to infection

The findings from this research have enabled public health authorities to estimate that, with approximately 6,000 cases reported per year, Scotland’s total annual healthcare cost for campylobacter infections is approximately £3 million. 

Costs vary from case to case, depending on the treatment required, with the highest costs being attributed to those over 65. This group has the highest incidence of campylobacter infection, a greater risk of being hospitalised and a longer duration of stay, although this may be due in part to underlying health conditions. Costs were also higher for those living in more deprived areas as they were more likely to have severe clinical outcomes from infection.

Food Standards Scotland’s Head of Food Protection Science and Surveillance, Dr Jacqui McElhiney, said:

“Reducing the number of people becoming unwell from campylobacter is a top food safety priority for Food Standards Scotland.

“These research projects help us better understand who is most at risk of developing severe infection, which will be used for future activity to support the reduction of the overall burden of campylobacter on individuals and our health service.

“We are currently exploring opportunities for engaging with the older population to highlight the risks of infection from campylobacter and steps they can take to protect themselves from illness.”

Links to the final reports of the projects can be found here:

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