Canadian Food Safety Alliance

October 09, 2012 08:44 ET

Estimates Place the Total Cost of E. coli O157 Infections at $240 Million/Year in Canada

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 9, 2012) - A new study on the long-term health costs associated with E. coli O157 has estimated the cost of primary and secondary illness in Canada to be $240 million per year. The scientific model used data from the National Notifiable Disease Registry (NNDR), examined the burden of disease, 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 Canada $26.7 million 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 $213 million annually, making the combined total costs approximately $240 million per year. The NNDR on-line information reported that 48.7% of the total VTEC illnesses involved children and adolescents.

The 2002 to 2008 Long-term Health Study, funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, which followed Walkerton, Ontario citizens for 6 years after the town's well was contaminated afforded the opportunity to learn about the long-term health consequences of E. coli O157 exposure. The findings of this research demonstrated an increased risk of kidney damage, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular disease in those individuals infected with E. coli O157.

"I have witnessed first-hand the long-term impact that E. coli O157 can have on people," said Dr. William Clark, an investigator on the Walkerton Long-term Health study. "We have an obligation to do whatever we can to mitigate the impact of this deadly pathogen."

Hundreds of different types of E. coli exist, most of which don't harm humans. One category of E. coli, Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC), has been associated with causing human illness. 93.7% of the VTEC illness in Canada comes from one type: E. coli O157. The primary source of E. coli O157 is cattle. It is estimated that as many as half the herds in North America are contaminated with E. coli O157.

"Canadian food processors do a tremendous job protecting consumers from E. coli, but more can be done on the farm - at the source of the problem," said Mr. Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the Canadian Food Safety Alliance. "There are on-farm preventative measures such as vaccination of cattle, the primary source of this pathogen, which would reduce the risk of human exposure to E. coli O157."

"When the estimated annual burden of illness due to E. coli O157 is $240 million and the estimated annual cost to address this at the source by vaccination of cattle is only $50 million, why aren't we doing it," added Baker.

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The Canadian Food Safety Alliance is committed to protecting the public health by promoting a prevention program that reduces the human health risks associated with E. coli O157 contamination.

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