A new study of the long-term health costs associated with E. coli O157 has estimated the cost of primary and secondary illness in Canada to be $244 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.
The 2002-2008 Long-term Health Study, funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, which followed Walkerton, Ontario, residents for six 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 the research demonstrated an increased risk of kidney damage, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular disease in those individuals infected with E. coli O157.
According to the model, 22,329 cases of primary VTEC infections occur in Canada annually, costing Canada $27.1 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 $216.9 million annually, making the combined total costs approximately $244 million per year. The NNDR on-line information reported that 48.7 percent of the total VTEC illnesses involved children and adolescents.
Nearly 94 percent of the VTEC illness in Canada comes from 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 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."