Features Health — 26 August 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Stomach flu study reveals an $18.6 mil burden

BELIZE CITY—The stomach flu has become fairly common—so much so, that the overall economic impact has become astronomical, at an estimated BZ$18.6 million annually, with roughly 40,000 cases believed to occur across Belize each year.

Apart from diarrhea generally resulting in 3 or more bathroom visits for the day, patients mostly suffer abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

Information provided to Amandala by Englebert Emmanuel, Burden of Illness Coordinator/Director of License Accreditation in the Ministry of Health, indicates that the economic impact of acute gastroenteritis on the public health system in Belize is estimated to be BZ$6.2million annually, while the economic loss due to unproductive days is estimated at BZ$ 10.9 million annually. Within the private health care system, loss of productivity and health care costs were estimated at BZ$1.4 million annually.

The Ministry of Health report notes that parasites as well as viral pathogens, specifically rotaviruses (RNA viruses known to cause severe diarrhea, especially in children), constitute the leading foodborne illness. Some food borne illnesses were also due to salmonella.

The Ministry of Health also conducted a prospective laboratory survey for a one-year period, September 2012 to September 2013.

The results were gleaned from a retrospective cross-sectional survey which sampled 3,100 persons with a 93.6% response rate. A total of 206 respondents reported that they had suffered stomach flu between September and October 2012 (the low season) and April to May 2013 (the high season).

The survey found that the incidences of stomach flu were highest in the Cayo and Belize Districts, at 9.0% and 8.3% respectively, which were both above the national rate of 7.1%.

Of note is that 90% or more of the persons reporting stomach flu said that they always used soap to wash hands before meals and after using the bathroom, and most drank bottled water and/or treated water rather than tap water.

Most stomach flu cases are not reported. For example, the Ministry of Health assessment assumes that for every person who visits the doctor with gastroenteritis, there are four other persons who did not report their illness and for every lab case confirmed, there were 333 other cases of gastrointestinal illness.

Last week, the Ministry of Health, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Belize and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) presented the results of the study on acute gastroenteritis and causes of foodborne illness in Belize.

According to the Ministry of Health, the results of the survey will be used for targeted interventions in food safety and improvements in under-reporting at the laboratory level.

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