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E.coli healthcare costs to Canada estimated in study

By Joe Whitworth , 15-Oct-2012

Estimates place cost of E.coli O157 infections at $240m/year in Canada

Health costs associated with E.coli 0157 have been estimated at CA$240m a year, according to a study.

Data was used from the National Notifiable Disease Registry (NNDR), to find the direct cost to the Canadian health care system and the indirect societal costs for lost productivity and premature death resulting from Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) infection.

According to the model, 22,329 cases of primary VTEC infections occur in Canada annually, costing $26.7m in medical costs, lost productivity and premature death.

The estimated annual medical cost of the long-term health outcomes attributed to E. coli O157 infection is $213m annually, making the combined total costs approximately $240m per year.

E.coli O157 leads to 93.7% of the VTEC illness in Canada with the primary source being cattle.

‘More can be done’

Bliss Baker, spokesman for the Canadian Food Safety Alliance, said the estimates only relate to healthcare and do not include costs incurred from industry to tackle E.coli O157.

Food processors typically do a very good job ensuring that meat is safe. However, there is more we can do on the farm to add additional "hurdles" for E.coli.

“On farm vaccines in combination with these processing measures will eliminate over 99% of the risks associated with E.coli O157 according to a recent Risk Assessment published by staff at the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

“When the estimated annual burden of illness due to E.coli O157 is $240m and the estimated annual cost to address this at the source by vaccination of cattle is only $50m, why aren’t we doing it.”

Long-term study

The 2002 to 2008 long-term Health Study offered the opportunity to learn about the health consequences of E. coli O157 exposure.

It is difficult to say what has happened to estimates over the past two years but our sense is they have stayed about the same or have gotten worse,” said Baker.

“We have not studied other strains of E.coli in this report. But, we do know that over 97% of the reported illnesses from E coli come from the specific strain O157:H7.”

When asked if the recent outbreak of E.coli at XL Foods is an example of what is wrong with the system, Baker said: “I don't think the recent E.coli outbreak tells us much about the real problem.

“The real problem is that we are not addressing the issue on the farm and in the environment. Processors world wide have spent billions of dollars trying to make their processing systems safe while we ignore the other half of the problem which is the infected manure on the farm.”