Illness from VTEC E.coli costs $400m per year in Canada

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Cattle are the primary reservoir of the human pathogen
Cattle are the primary reservoir of the human pathogen

Related tags Escherichia coli

Verotoxigenic E.coli (VTEC) costs almost CAD$404m per year in primary infections and long-term health outcomes in Canada, according to a study.

More than 93% of the VTEC infections are caused by the O157 strain of E. coli, said the study funded by Bioniche Life Sciences.

Verotoxigenic E.coli is also known as Shiga-toxin producing E.coli and led to the XL Foods recall last year​.

Vaccine developed

Bioniche One Health, which has developed a cattle vaccine to target the pathogen, said the study has been approved for publication in the Journal of Food Protection.

The vaccine was developed with the University of British Columbia, the Alberta Research Council and the University of Saskatchewan and was licensed for commercial sale by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2008.

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

They estimated the burden of illness and associated costs for eight long-term health outcomes utilizing relative risk information from peer reviewed literature.

An estimated 22,344 cases of primary infections occur in Canada annually costing $26.7m. There are 37,867 additional on-going long-term health outcomes costing $377.2m each year, according to the abstract of the study.

Not all VTEC cases are captured by disease surveillance systems, leaving uncertainty around the exact number of cases, which was addressed by using an under-reporting factor, said the study.

Higher costs?

The researchers said that, because the costs exclude other public and private sector costs, the actual costs of VTEC infection are much higher than the $403.9m quoted.

"Reduction of E. coli O157 shedding by cattle offers an opportunity to significantly reduce public health risk​," said Dr Paul Sockett, 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: (i) public health, (ii) agriculture, (iii) food processing and retail, and (iv) national and local government organizations responsible for acting on reports of human illness or animal or product contamination​,” said the former director of the foodborne, waterborne and zoonotic infections division of Public Health Agency of Canada.

The researchers expect that the information 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).

Bioniche Life Sciences said it provided funding to consultants and independent expert reviewers for the study.

“The methodologies used in cost of illness studies are not without controversy.  How do you put a value on human life and suffering?  We hope the information from this study will help to inform and shape public policy​,” a spokeswoman from the firm told

“Reduction of on-farm E. coli O157 through vaccination reduces the risk of contamination of nearby produce and wells via run-off surface water, manure, or slurry thereby further limiting the potential of transmission to people.”

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