Gastro infection increase

Monday, 03 October, 2011

Infectious intestinal disease (IID) now affects up to 17 million people in the community in the UK annually, and rates in England have increased by nearly 50 per cent since the early 1990s, delegates to Health Protection 2011, the Health Protection Agency's annual conference at Warwick University, were told.

Professor Sarah O'Brien from The University of Manchester, the lead researcher on the biggest population study of its kind for 12 years, described how the study had been able to accurately estimate the scale and impact of infectious intestinal disease in the community.

The study that was funded by the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health (England) revealed that:

• There are up to 17 million cases of IID in the UK every year. This equates to one-in-four of
the population suffering from vomiting and/or diarrhoea of varying severity annually.

• Norovirus infection accounts for around 3 million of these cases

• Campylobacter is responsible for around 500,000 cases

• 18.8 million working and school days are lost as a result of IID in its totality

• 11.4 million people of working age are affected

• One million cases present to General Practice

Professor O'Brien said: "This study is of major importance to the Food Standards Agency, who sponsored the project, and to the NHS and the various health protection agencies in the UK because it gives a much more accurate picture of the scale of IID in the community, the impact it is having on people's lives and the burden it is placing on GP services and on the national economy as a whole.

"One interesting finding was that although the overall incidence of IID has gone up by nearly 50 per cent since the previous study was undertaken in the early 1990s, fewer people are consulting their GPs when they have episodes of vomiting or diarrhoea. This might suggest that perhaps there is better understanding of gastrointestinal illness, with more people realising that these are usually self-limiting episodes from which the majority of people will recover without treatment other than rest and the replacement of fluids.

"A second interesting discovery was that only one case of infectious intestinal disease in 150 is reported to national surveillance and in the case of norovirus infection, it is one case in 300. There is therefore massively more gastrointestinal illness in the community than national statistics would suggest and although self-limiting in most cases; these illnesses can be nasty, unpleasant and disruptive to the lives of victims.

"Our research confirms that public health policy should continue to be directed at preventing diarrhoea and vomiting by promoting good personal and food hygiene."

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