Food In Canada

Canada pays hefty price for E. coli illnesses: report

A study has found that primary and long-term illnesses related to E. coli O157 cost more than $400 million per year in Canada

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Belleville, Ont. – A new study has found that E. coli infections cost Canada $403.9 million each year.

The study, which was funded by Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., shows that 93 per cent of Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) infections are caused by the E. coli O157 strain.

“Reduction of E. coli O157 shedding by cattle offers an opportunity to significantly reduce public health risk,” says Dr. Paul Sockett, an expert in foodborne diseases, the former Director of the Foodborne, Waterborne and Zoonotic Infections Division of the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the principal author of the study.

Sockett adds that four public sectors are impacted by concerns relating to the severity of human illness and the prevalence of VTEC infection in cattle and other ruminants. They are:
• public health;
• agriculture;
• food processing and retail; and
• national and local government organizations responsible for acting on reports of human illness or animal or product contamination.

Sockett presented the study findings at the Public Health Ontario Vaccine Sciences Symposium 2013 in Toronto on Dec. 4.

Calculating cost

VTEC strains include shiga toxin producing and enterohemorrhagic E. coli, which can infect humans after ingestion of contaminated food or water. In serious cases, E. coli can cause life-threatening complications, particularly kidney disease or even death, says Food Safety News.com.

Bioniche says the authors of the study used a cost of illness methodology to delineate and quantify the costs associated with VTEC infection in Canada.

The authors focused on medical costs and productivity losses, which were aggregated to give a total cost.

Historical notifiable disease data (the number of laboratory confirmed cases reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada) was used in the analysis. Only a fraction of VTEC cases are captured by disease surveillance systems, leaving uncertainty around the exact number of cases within the community. This was addressed in the study using an under-reporting factor.

The study authors note that, because the costs exclude other public and private sector costs, the actual costs to society of VTEC infection are much higher.

The research looked at the distribution of human VTEC infection cases in Canada, whereby the highest rates of human infection have been associated with proximity to high densities of cattle.

In fact, Alberta public health authorities have identified a trend of higher incidence of human E. coli O157 infection in that province, with incidence as high as 29.1 cases per 100,000 population in south-central Alberta compared with an average of 2.8 per 100,000 for Canada during the same year.

When considering the costs of implementing control and/or prevention interventions versus the costs of disease over a longer period of time, the study authors suggest that, if the current situation were to remain unchanged over the next five or 10 years, the discounted present value of those future costs would be approximately $1.8 to $2.09 billion and $3.2 to $3.9 billion for five and 10 years, respectively.

The study authors expect that the information provided by the study will contribute to improved assessment of alternative approaches to reducing or preventing human VTEC infection, including cattle vaccines (on their own or with other interventions).