The salmonella outbreak at Illinois Subway restaurants has caused hundreds, if not thousands, of foodpoisoning cases. The Illinois Department of Public Health currently counts 79 confirmed cases, 27 of whom had to be hospitalized for treatment (as of June 10, 7 remained hospitalized). And if widely accepted estimates–in fact, CDC estimates–of true case counts in salmonella outbreaks are accurate (79 x 38.5), applying the same hospitalization rate (roughly 1/3) would mean that, of the approximately 3000 people who may have been infected in the outbreak, possibly one thousand people have been hospitalized for treatment in the outbreak. (See, AC Voetsch, “FoodNet estimate of the burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal Salmonella infections in the United States,”Clinical Infectious Diseases 2004;38 (Suppl 3):S127-34).
This is admittedly just speculation at this point, but it is speculation that is grounded in the most thorough studies ever done on the true scope, and cost, of foodpoisoning outbreaks, particularly salmonella. Another recent study estimates that each salmonella illness (non-typhoidal, which includes Salmonella Hvittingfoss, the Subway outbreak strain) costs an average of $318 in medical expenses. Thus, if the estimates in these studies are accurate, costs of treatment incurred to date in the Subway salmonella outbreak may total $954,000 ($318 x 3,000).
Who will pay these costs? The possibilities, of course, are private insurance carriers, state and federal governments (i.e. taxpayers), uninsured individuals who can ill-afford to be hit with thousands in medical costs, and Subway and/or the produce companies who sold Subway the contaminated produce item responsible for this outbreak. Has Subway yet responded to our call, on behalf of outbreak victims, to pay these costs?