Three waterborne illnesses cost U.S. $539 million annually

A new study has revealed that three waterborne illnesses cost the U.S. healthcare system up to $539 million a year.

The information was released in a study during the recent International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, in Atlanta, according to Reuters.

The three diseases - Legionnaire’s disease, cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis - are caused by three different microbes, but are all spread by water, according to the report.

Michael Beach, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of the researchers who presented the study, told Reuters that the spread of the diseases is quite costly.

“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 health care costs, including direct government payments through Medicare and Medicaid,” Beach told Reuters.

Examining information from a large insurance claims database, Beach and colleagues looked at data from between 2004 to 2007. They found that hospital costs per case averaged more than $34,000 for Legionnaires' disease, $9,000 for giardiasis and approximately $21,000 for cryptosporidiosis.

Although the microbes for each disease vary, they can all be caused by water that has become contaminated by fecal matter of animals or people. All three of the diseases can be fairly easily treated with antibiotics or other medicines, according to the report.

“When people think about these diseases, they usually think of a simple case of diarrhea, which is a nuisance but quickly goes away,” Beach told Reuters. “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.”

CDC officials recommended regular inspection of pools and other recreational water facilities as well as the use of educational campaigns as low-cost ways to prevent these infections.