Waterborne Diseases Could Cost $500 Million Annually in the U.S.

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Hospitalizations for three common waterborne diseases cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $539 million annually, according to research presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Hospitalizations for three common waterborne diseases cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $539 million annually, according to research presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

"These cost data highlight that water-related diseases pose not only a physical burden to the thousands of people sickened by them each year, but also a substantial burden in healthcare costs, including direct government payments through Medicare and Medicaid," says study author Michael Beach of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Currently, there are no well-documented data on the total healthcare costs associated with all waterborne diseases. However, using data from a large insurance claims database between 2004 and 2007, Beach and his colleagues estimated the hospitalization cost of three common waterborne diseases in the United States: Legionnaires' disease, cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis. For each case of disease, they calculated the cost paid by the insurer, the out-of-pocket cost to the patient, and the total amount paid.

Total estimated costs for hospitalization for the three diseases was $154 million to $539 million, including $44 million to $147 million in direct government payments for Medicare and Medicaid. Estimated annual costs for the individual diseases were: giardiasis, $16 million to $63 million; cryptosporidiosis, $37 million to $145 million; and Legionnaires' disease, $101 million to $321 million.

Inpatient hospitalization costs per case averaged more than $34,000 for Legionnaires' disease, approximately $9,000 for giardiasis and more than $21,000 for cryptosporidiosis.

"When people think about these diseases, they usually think of a simple case of diarrhea, which is a nuisance but quickly goes away. However, these infections can cause severe illness that often result in hospital stays of more than a week, which can quickly drive up health care costs," Beach says.

Other symptoms can include rashes, eye and ear infections and respiratory or neurological symptoms and can even be fatal.

Modest investments in preventing these diseases could lead to reduced disease and significant healthcare cost savings, Beach says. Some examples of possible, low-cost interventions include public education campaigns, appropriate maintenance of building water systems, and regular inspection of pools and other recreational water facilities.

The International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases is organized by the CDC, the American Society for Microbiology, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the Association of Public Health Laboratories and the World Health Organization.

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