Most expensive case of food poisoning

Posted in Bioterrorism at 11:10 am by George Smith

An Ohio State University study estimates the cost of foodborne illness in the US at $77 billion/year. The study also breaks out which microorganisms cost the most and which are the most expensive per person.

At the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:

Although the estimated annual toll of foodborne illnesses and deaths in the United States was revised sharply downward by federal officials in 2010, foodborne disease still costs the nation up to $77.7 billion a year, according to a new study in the Journal of Food Protection.

The study, by Robert L. Scharff of Ohio State University, is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) December 2010 estimate that the nation has 48 million cases of foodborne illness with 3,000 deaths annually.

According to the [new] model, the most expensive foodborne diseases are associated with Salmonella, at $11.39 billion per year …

On a per-case basis, the most costly foodborne disease by far is Vibrio vulnificus infection, at $2.79 million, according to the enhanced model. Other highly expensive ones are Clostridium botulinum (botulism), $1.68 million, and L monocytogenes, $1.28 million …

Vibrio vulnficus, with which I am personally familiar, is costly because it is catastrophic. It takes an extraordinary effort to save people, if they can be, when a systemic infection takes hold. When people aren’t killed by it, or just acquire it fishing or in shellfish handling, they are maimed in some ugly way, left with disease-caused injury that must be coped with forever.

This unsettling page, calling the disease Marsh Death, makes the case for me.

And why can Vibrio vulnificus cause such horrid injuries?

Because it produces enzymes which degrade the body’s connective tissue, chief among them a collagenase — which catalyzes the dissolution of collagen.

And discovering that was my contribution to science and medicine/health.

The paper describing it was brief but elegant, something of which I am still proud.

Note the citation index for it here.

The paper is free on the web, courtesy of PubMed Central, and easily readable to laymen.

“Collagenolytic activity of Vibrio vulnificus: potential contribution to its invasiveness.” Nice title, if I do say so myself. Perfectly descriptive.

However, American science can be very shortsighted. In 1982 there was virtually no interest in Vibrio vulnificus even though now it has a much higher profile in the nation’s consciousness.

Vibrio vulnificus is why there is currently government regulation and continuing work on “post-harvesting processing” and sanitizing raw oysters.

When I left Lehigh University there was no opportunity to work on further characterization of the microbe’s protein chemistry anywhere.
There was no funding for it. And so I wound up doing someone else’s uninteresting basic vanity science, at — paradoxically — Penn State’s medical school in Hershey, PA.

After that, I’d had enough of lab research.

Here is a pdf of statistics compiled from the national Vibrio surveillance program, first instituted in 1988, six years after I published on V. vulnificus. It notes vulnificus causes the majority of Vibrio illnesses reported in the southern states covered by the program.

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