According to a new study recently published by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), nearly 17 million people suffer from stomach upsets in the UK every year, leading to about 11 million lost working days. The study, which FSA noted to be the biggest of its kind for more than 10 years, revealed the following key findings:
- There are up to 17 million cases of infectious intestinal disease (IID) annually, which is the equivalent of one in four people becoming ill during the year.
- Approximately 50% of people with IID took time off from work or school because of their symptoms. The University of Manchester has calculated that this represents nearly 19 million days lost – more than 11 million of these were in people of working age.
- For every case of IID recorded in national surveillance there are 147 that are unreported.
- Viruses, particularly norovirus, and the bacteria campylobacter are the most common causes of IID.
The numbers clearly show what a significant problem infectious intestinal disease can be and the toll it can take on not only a nation’s health but its economy as well. Some researchers estimate that the cost of campylobacter illnesses alone in the UK could be as high as £600 million a year. As Professor Sarah O’Brien, the study’s lead researcher from the University of Manchester, relayed:
It’s easy to dismiss diarrhoea and vomiting as a trivial illness, but this study reinforces just how many people’s lives are affected, and shows the impact it can have on health services and the wider economy. Our research confirms that public health policy should continue to be directed at preventing diarrhoea and vomiting by promoting good personal and food hygiene.
The study indicated that campylobacter was the main cause of bacterial IID in the UK. Specifically, researchers explained that:
Campylobacter is estimated to cause about 500,000 cases of illness in the UK every year. It is mainly found on raw poultry, and a recent survey by the FSA found that two thirds of chicken samples on sale within the UK were contaminated with the bacteria.
Based on the results of this study, the UK plans to make a serious effort in reducing the incidence of campylobacter, in particular, in food. Close to £4 million is being used to fund 12 new projects at various universities and research centers throughout the UK. The projects will focus on three main areas including:
- When infection begins in poultry and what are the common points of contamination
- How bio-control of campylobacter on farms and during processing can make a difference
- The biology of and the interaction between the bacteria and the bird.
Scientists are hopeful that this research will allow the UK to see a vast improvement in the number of people sickened by campylobacter each year. Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the FSA, said:
The study shows the FSA is correct to make campylobacter a key priority in its strategic plan. We know that levels of campylobacter on chicken are far too high in the UK, which is why we are working closely with the food industry to bring these levels down.