Preventive Measures Significantly Cut Costs of the Common Cold

Queen's University medical researchers today released some key findings from the first study of its kind done in Canada on the impact of colds and flu on school absenteeism, the workplace, and the economy. The researchers reviewed more than 80 published clinical trials, studies and research projects representing the work of over 300 researchers from more than 100 universities and institutions.

In their report, "Why the Common Cold and Flu Matter," the researchers found:

- One-third of Canadian adults have a sore throat, cold or flu in any given month. More common in women than men.

- Two-thirds of Canadian adults experiencing the first signs of a cold or flu used some type of self-treatment. Women were more likely to self treat and also consult a doctor as compared to men.

- One-fifth of Canadian adults ignore symptoms altogether

- Cough/cold remedies are the second most commonly used medications in Canada.

- Canadians spend more than $300 million a year on over-the-counter cold and flu treatments and prescription antibiotics which, for the most part, neither "...ameliorate symptoms nor change the course of the illnesses."

Prevention can play a role in reducing the spread of illnesses. Queen's researchers say that school-aged children and young adults play a significant role in the spread of respiratory illnesses. In the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pegs missed school days as a result of colds at 22 million a year.

Studies by SDI, a research agency that tracks colds and flu in North America, have shown that there is an annual spike in colds and flu within the first two weeks of students' return to school in September, something supported by Queen's researchers who cite a sharp increase in pediatric asthma cases as a result of rhinovirus infection, the primary cause of colds. They point out that young children with respiratory symptoms play a major role in spreading colds to family and friends and, "...school-age children have been shown to introduce rhinovirus infections into their families 3 times more frequently than working adults."

But adults also play a significant role in the spread of infection. Queen's researchers found that the U.S. work force goes to work rather than calling in sick resulting in substantial losses of productivity and increased costs: 83 percent of participants in a U.S. survey on work and illness say they continued to attend work or school while experiencing symptoms of an influenza-like illness.

It costs employers twice as much in productivity losses for employees who come to work sick than for those who stay home. All of this infection adds up to a significant economic cost as researchers cite direct costs due to lost productivity from colds at $25 billion in the U.S. Taking into consideration both indirect (lost productivity) and direct (doctor visits and medicine) costs, of colds, the figure in the U.S. annually is $40 billion

Researchers conclude that, "Preventive measures that result in even a modest reduction in colds and flu would have a significant impact on reducing costs to the healthcare system and impact on the economy."

The study was conducted by the research arm of the Department of Family Medicine at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The study was supported by an independent educational grant from Afexa Life Sciences.

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