Canada counts the cost of E. coli

Monday, 09 December, 2013

Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) costs Canada $403.9 million each year, a study to be published in the Journal of Food Protection shows. More than 93% of VTEC infections in Canada are caused by the E. coli O157 strain.

Bioniche Life Sciences has developed a cattle vaccine that it says will reduce the burden of this pathogen.

“Reduction of E. coli O157 shedding by cattle offers an opportunity to significantly reduce public health risk,” said 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.

“Four key public sectors are impacted by concerns relating to the severity of human illness and the prevalence of VTEC infection in cattle and other ruminants: public health, agriculture, food processing and retail, and national and local government organisations responsible for acting on reports of human illness or animal or product contamination.”

To come up with the figure of $403.9 million, the study authors used a cost of illness methodology focusing on medical costs and productivity losses, which were aggregated to give a total cost.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of VTEC cases are captured by disease surveillance systems, the authors said, leaving the exact number of cases uncertain. This was addressed in the study using an under-reporting factor. According to the authors, because their cost analysis excludes other public and private sector costs, the actual costs of VTEC infection are much higher.

In Canada, the highest rates of human VTEC infection have been associated with proximity to high densities of cattle, the researchers found. In Alberta, for example, public health authorities have reported infection rates as high as 29.1 cases per 100,000, compared with an average of 2.8 per 100,000 for the whole country in 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 5 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 E. coli O157 vaccine - Econiche - is fully registered in Canada, is approved for importation into Australia, has received Special Treatment Certificate authorisation for UK veterinary surgeons to use on visitor open farms, and has been granted an import permit for use on cattle farms in Sweden.

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