Science - August 30, 2012

Q fever more costly than believed

Costs may amount to more than half a billion. Loss of working hours the biggest cost.

The social costs of the outbreak of Q fever in the Netherlands have turned out to be almost twice the amount previously estimated, research by two economics institutes, the LEI and the SEO, has shown. Last year the researchers reckoned with costs to the tune of between 161 and 336 million euros. Now they think the final bill will be in the region of 250 to 600 million euros.
The difference lies mainly in the loss of working hours by Q fever patients, something which is hard to calculate. Forty percent of the 4000 Q fever patients reported sick for longer than a month and were still suffering physical problems such as constant tiredness one year after the infection. A growing number of patients developed complaints later on, reports the SEO. This explains the rising human costs, which constitute about 85 percent of the total costs.
Collaboration essential
The Q fever epidemic between 2007 and 2010 led to the culling of 60,000 goats and a breeding ban for goat farms. The pathogen also made 4000 people ill, and 19 of these patients died. 'The LEI calculated the veterinary costs', says co-researcher Ron Bergevoet. 'Those costs have not changed since last year. The culling of the goats and the breeding ban cost about 37 million euros. Now the goats have been vaccinated.' Remarkably, says Bergevoet, the vaccination costs are nothing compared with the human health care costs. 'Good collaboration between the ministry of EL&I and VWS is essential if another animal disease that can be passed on to humans should emerge.'
The research, which was published mid-August in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, has come out just at the point when Q fever patients want to file a suit against the goat farmers for damages caused by Q fever. It is not clear what the chances of success are for this court case.

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