Cost of common cold reaches $40 billion in U.S.
Lost work days, drug costs, doctor visits impact economy
The Canadian Press
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
TORONTO -- When it comes to costs, there's nothing common about a cold.
American researchers have calculated the common cold's economic toll on the U.S. economy, setting it at a mind-boggling $40 billion US a year.
The researchers, from the University of Michigan Health System, did not calculate figures for Canada. But experts suggest the annual economic burden of head colds in this country isn't chump change.
Between over-the-counter drugs, useless antibiotic prescriptions, doctors' visits and lost work days, colds cost plenty.
"I think that's the take-home message from this . . . that common colds have a big burden on both the health-care system and these indirect costs of work absenteeism and staying home from work to take care of your children," said Dr. Doug Manuel, a Toronto physician and public health researcher at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.
"And that point, I think, is extrapolatable from the United States to Canada," said Manuel, who was not involved in the research.
The research was published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Lead author Dr. Mark Fendrick said the researchers set out to capture all the costs relating to colds, looking beyond the easy-to-calculate items like the number of doctor visits made by people suffering from colds. The paper estimated Americans catch a half-billion colds a year.
Missed work days made up the bulk of the costs -- $20 billion, the authors estimated. That included days missed because the employee was sick or was home looking after an ailing child.
Doctors' visits for colds cost $7.7 billion a year; a further $4.8 billion was spent on people seeking treatment because their cold had progressed to a sinus, ear or lower respiratory tract infection.
The team found 20 per cent of people with colds went to a doctor -- a figure Fendrick called "my main surprise from this study."
Modern medicine has made quantum leaps in many areas, but if you go to a doctor with a cold she'll tell you what her predecessors told their patients half a century ago: rest, drink plenty of fluids, take pills for headaches and keep the tissue box close at hand.
The only cure for a cold is time. Available drugs don't shorten the course of a cold.
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