A 2015 USDA publication estimated the yearly economic burden of 15 foodborne illnesses on the U.S. population at $15.5 billion. Right off the bat it should be clarified that economic burden is NOT the same thing as out-of-pocket expenses. The economic burden is a result of factors such as the illness’ “frequency, severity, and health impact”1. The report states that “Conceptually, economists measure the economic burden of a disease as the sum of the willingness to pay by all individuals in society to reduce its incidence or likelihood”1. Campylobacter spp. ranks 5th in this list for the greatest contributor to economic burden at $1.9 billion.
Campylobacter accounts for 9% of illnesses where a biological agent can be identified. Illnesses are self-limiting, but ~1% of illnesses will require hospitalization. 15% of all foodborne illnesses that require hospitalization are caused by Campylobacter. Mild cases may go away in two to five days. However, severe cases are assumed to take six days in the hospital and three days of at-home recuperation. Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare but severe autoimmune disease that may follow illnesses with certain pathogens. And, an estimated 40% of GBS cases are triggered by Campylobacter. Approximately 56% of the $1.9 billion economic burden from Campylobacter is actually a result of GBS. GBS occurs in less than 0.25% of Campylobacter cases, but those cases account for over 50% of the economic burden. Campylobacter deaths result in 34% of the burden, and 10% is from both non-hospitalized and hospitalized illnesses.
While Campylobacter may not be as well-known as other foodborne pathogens, the costs of the illness are staggering. Handling or eating raw or undercooked poultry is still a major risk-factor for developing campylobacteriosis. Handwashing and avoiding cross-contamination are the best ways to keep oneself from developing this illness.
- Hoffmann, Sandra, Bryan Maculloch, and Michael Batz. Economic Burden of Major Foodborne Illnesses Acquired in the United States, EIB-140, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, May 2015.