This week, Queen’s University researchers released a report on the impact of colds and flu on school absences, the workplace, and the economy. In the first report of its kind in Canada, the researchers reviewed over 80 published clinical trials and studies by more than 300 researchers from over 100 universities and institutions.
The research arm of the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University for Tamarind Healthcare Communications – the Centre for Studies in Primary Care (CSPC) – conducted the project in Kingston, Ontario. The study was headed by CSPC director, Dr. Richard Birtwhistle, and supported by an independent educational grant from Afexa Life Sciences, makers of COLD-FX.
In their report entitled “Why the Common Cold and Flu Matter”, the researchers discovered that 1/3 of Canadian adults have a sore throat, cold or flu in any given month – more commonly found in women than men.
They also reported that 2/3 of Canadian adults experiencing the first signs of a cold or flu used some type of self-treatment, although 1/5 of Canadian adults ignore the symptoms altogether.
Cough and cold remedies are the second most commonly used medications in Canada with people spending over $300 million a year on over-the-counter cold and flu treatments and prescription antibiotics which, for the most part, neither “…ameliorate symptoms nor change the course of the illnesses.”
Researchers state that school-aged children and young adults play a significant part in the spread of respiratory illnesses but prevention can play a role in reducing the spread.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed 22 million missed school days to the common cold, and studies by SDI – a research agency that measures colds and flu in North America – reveal a sharp increase in colds and flu within the first two weeks of students’ return to school in September every year.
The Queen’s University research also found that young children with respiratory symptoms are major contributors to spreading colds to family and friends, with school-age children introducing rhinovirus infections into their families three times more frequently than working adults.
Total cold infections directly cost $25 billion in the United States due to lost productivity, with the price increasing to $40 billion when considering costs such as doctor visits and purchasing medicine.
According to researchers, it costs employers twice as much in productivity losses for employees who come to work sick than for those who stay home and don’t infect their coworkers. In part, that discovery has led Dr. Birtwhistle and his colleagues to conclude that “preventative measures that result in even a modest reduction in colds and flu would have a significant impact on reducing costs to the healthcare system and impact on the economy.”