New safefood study highlights the economic impact of gastroenteritis

1 Apri,l 2008. A new safefood study – The Economic Impact of Gastroenteritis on the Island of Ireland has revealed the total burden of gastroenteritis on the economy for the island of Ireland is estimated at over €135 million per annum.

The report commissioned by safefood and carried out by Trinity College Dublin and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was launched today at a conference in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

‘‘This report highlights the substantial economic burden of gastroenteritis on the island of Ireland. Although the costs associated with work make up a large part of the economic burden, a significant proportion falls on patients and their families. The average annual cost to individuals and their families represent about 20% of the overall burden to the economy or €24.20 per person. 40% to 50% of the economic burden is associated with the cost of missing work and 20% is associated with health system costs,” Dr Thomas Quigley, Director, Food Science, safefood commented. “This economic assessment enables us to understand the financial impact of the disease on the economy, which will help determine the measures necessary to reduce the number of cases,” Dr Quigley continued. 

Professor Charles Normand, Trinity College Dublin said “Although gastroenteritis is a commonly known illness, it has hidden costs and an economic impact which is often not considered. The estimate of €135 million as the burden on the economy is conservative and in reality, the actual economic burden is likely to be even higher.”

“Gastroenteritis is a common, but generally preventable illness of the digestive system. It is usually caused by germs and symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and nausea. The main treatment for gastroenteritis is fluid replacement and attention to hygiene to prevent the spread of the illness to others. However, medical attention should be sought if symptoms persist and for vulnerable groups such as infants.

safefood advises that by implementing simple measures like proper hand washing and following the correct food safety rules for the preparation and handling of food, the incidence of gastroenteritis can be reduced,” Dr Quigley continued.

Approximately 10% of people on the island of Ireland report suffering symptoms of gastroenteritis each year. These figures are in line with estimated rates from other similar European Union studies. However, it is thought that gastroenteritis is underreported because in many cases patients can manage the illness themselves without going to their doctor. Between 20% and 40% of gastroenteritis is reported amongst children aged one to four years of age and almost 2% of children on the island of Ireland are hospitalised each year due to gastroenteritis.

A full report on the research is available on the safefood website,


For further information / media interviews please contact

Niamh Burdett / Kate FitzGerald, WHPR
01 669 0030 / 086 6086764 (Niamh) / 086 387 3083 (Kate) /


Dermot Moriarty, safefood
01 448 0600

Editors Notes

Further research findings

  • The perspective taken was societal, that is the costs were assessed regardless of who bears them. It was therefore necessary to assess costs to primary and secondary health services, those falling on individuals, families and friends, and those falling on third parties such as employers.
  • In most cases the results presented in this report are based on data gathered and analyses specifically for this study.
  • The overall rate of gastroenteritis is 100 per 1,000 per year (10%), both in ROI and in NI. This rate varies by age with a rate of 20% to 40% for children aged 1 to 4 years and much lower for adults.
  • The overall rate of presentation with gastroenteritis to medical services is 40 per 1,000 per year, both in ROI and in NI.
  • There is a higher burden per head in ROI (€25.94/£17.51 per head per annum) as compared to NI (€20.16/£13.61 per head per annum), which is the result of both lower presentation to primary care in NI and slightly lower costs of some services.
  • In ROI the proportion of costs that fall on the patient and their families is always higher if the individual presents to a health service. The latter is because the NHS in NI covers costs for hospitals, in-hours and out of hours GP services for all the population, whereas in ROI the General Medical Services (GMS) scheme only covers the full cost for certain individuals in the community.
  • The overall annual rates of hospitalisation with gastroenteritis as the primary diagnosis were around 1 per 1,000 persons, in both ROI and NI. The age specific rates were similar in the two jurisdictions, with highest rates among infants (about 18 per 1,000 per year) and children 1 to 4 years of age (about 7 per 1,000 per year).
  • The total direct hospital costs to ROI and NI are €5,755,763 and €3,016,349 respectively.