Health & Medical Cold,Fever,Flu,Cough

Cost of the Common Cold: $40 Billion

´╗┐Cost of the Common Cold: $40 Billion Feb. 24, 2003 -- The cost of the common cold isn't cheap. Across the country, millions of people stay at home, popping pills, sucking lozenges, squirting miracle cures up their noses, as they wage this all-too-familiar war against the unbeatable virus.

In fact, this "war" costs the U.S. economy roughly $40 billion a year -- substantially more than other conditions like asthma, heart failure, and emphysema.

"From a bottle of cough syrup to missed time at work and school, the price tag of catching a cold really adds up," says researcher A. Mark Fendrick, MD, with the Consortium for Health Outcomes, Innovation, and Cost Effectiveness Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

His study appears in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine.

In it, he reports the results from a nationwide telephone survey of more than 4,000 U.S. households. Nearly 75% reported suffering from a cold within the last year, with an average of 2.5 episodes.

"A cold is the most commonly occurring illness in humans, so it was no surprise that there are approximately 500 million colds each year in the U.S.," says Fendrick. "What was a surprise is how often the public uses the health care system to treat a cold."

Those surveyed reported their doctors' bills, over-the-counter medication costs, and costs of prescription drugs. They also reported days when work and school were missed, a cost that is generally overlooked, says Fendrick.

"For some, catching a cold may lead to a trip to the drug store to stock up on throat lozenges and nasal congestion, and for others a brief doctor's visit," he adds. "The public doesn't usually consider the costs associated with missing a day of work due to illness or having to stay at home to take care of a sick child. Not surprisingly, lost work drives most of the cost."

Fendrick found that Americans spend $2.9 billion on over-the-counter drugs and another $400 million on prescription medicines for symptom relief. Also, more than $1.1 billion are spent annually on the estimated 41 million antibiotic prescriptions for cold sufferers -- even though antibiotics have no effect on a viral illness.

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