June 18, 2018

New Study Adds Up Annual Cost of Illness from 14 Foodborne Pathogens

A new study published in the Journal of Food Protection has added up the annual cost of illness from 14 foodborne pathogens. Those pathogens make up 95% of the foodborne illnesses and hospitalizations in the United States. They also account for 98% of deaths caused by foodborne pathogens.

The cost of illnesses from those 14 pathogens add up to $14 billion every year. That cost is calculated using medical costs, productivity loss, and the cost of premature death. About 90% of this amount is caused by just five pathogens:

  • Salmonella enterica costs $3.3 billion every year
  • Toxoplasma gondii costs $3 billion
  • Listeria monocytogenes costs $2.6 billion
  • Norovirus costs $2 billion
  • Campylobacter costs $1.7 billion

The study also counted the number of QALYs lost to these pathogens. We’ve mentioned QALYs before; that acronym stands for quality adjusted life years. ¬†That means it is a measure of disease burden, and is used to calculate the value of medical treatments.

Every year lived in perfect health equals 1 QALY. Every year not lived in full health has a value less than one. For some diseases, for some people, QALY can actually be a negative number; that is, worse than death. The researchers cataloged the symptoms, severities, durations, outcomes, and likelihood of health states for each pathogen.

Those five pathogens cause this loss of QALY:

  • Salmonella enterica causes a loss of 17,000 QALYS per year
  • Toxoplasma gondii causes a loss of 11,000 QALYs per year
  • Listeria monocytogenes causes a loss of 9,400 QALYs per year
  • Norovirus causes a loss of 5,000 QALYs per year
  • Campylobacter causes a loss of 13,300 QALYs per year

It’s interesting that although Campylobacter infections have a lower monetary cost than the other four pathogens, the loss of QALYs is higher than all but one of the others. That may be because Campylobacter causes the most cases of foodborne illness than any other pathogen, even though fewer hospitalizations are associated with that bacteria. In fact, the top pathogen-food combination is Campylobacter in poultry.

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