Probiotics could help save billions in health care costs associated with flu-like infections

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Dr_Microbe
© Getty Images / Dr_Microbe
The potential of probiotic supplements to reduce the incidence and duration of flu-like respiratory tract infections in the US could translate into over $1 billion of costs savings, according to a new economic modeling study.

Data published in Frontiers in Pharmacology​indicated that probiotics may reduce the duration of the infection, the use of antibiotics, and missed days at work, all of which would translate into significant cost savings for the US population.

The new study was performed by pioneering nutrition economist Irene Lenoir-Wijnkoop, plus probiotic experts including Dan Merenstein (Georgetown University) Daria Korchagina (IQVIA), Christa Broholm (Chr. Hansen), Mary Ellen Sanders (Dairy & Food Culture Technologies) and Dan Tancredi (UC Davis).

“While the changes are small at an individual level, when applied to the US population, the health impact is sizable, ranging from an estimated 19,012,000 to 54,491,000 fewer RTI [respiratory tract infections] days, 1,393,000 to 2,166,000 averted antibiotic courses, and 3,576,000 to 4,217,000 avoided missed work days,”​ they wrote.

“In terms of cost savings, the impact of avoided RTI events, translated to the US population, represented a potential total amount of approximately 1.4 billion USD, of which 370 million USD represents savings for the health care payer.”

“Positive in many aspects”

The paper’s findings were welcomed by George Paraskevakos, executive director of the International Probiotics Association.

“This study is positive in many aspects as for one shows how probiotics benefit consumers, can help reduce healthcare costs for the US government and instill a spirit of pro activity for healthcare providers passing this to their patients,” ​Paraskevakos told NutraIngredients-USA.

The study was funded by Chr. Hansen. Adam Baker, senior manager, human health development at the Danish bioscience firm, said: “This study builds on independent clinical trials and translates the clinical findings into cost and impact on primary health care.

“The results present a very strong case for probiotics. As a result of this study, we now have a new simulation model that will provide us with new ways to work with data in future studies.”

Study details

RTIs in numbers

5–20% of the population will have at least one RTI every year 
In the US, this leads to: 
31.4 million outpatient visits, 
3.1 million hospitalized days, 
41,000 deaths every year.

Using data from two meta-analyses of how probiotics may reduce the incidence and duration of RTIs, the number of antibiotic courses, and the days absent from work, Lenoir-Wijnkoop and her co-workers modeled this for a population representative of the US based on age and gender.

One meta-analysis was published by the York Health Economics Consortium (YHEC) and one by Cochrane. While both meta-analyses showed a benefit, they used different datasets: For example, the Cochrane scenario considered both a shorter RTI duration and a reduced RTI incidence, explained the researchers. This meant that estimates from the Cochrane data were larger.

The model showed significant costs savings based on less productivity loss, fewer absences from work, and less antibiotic use.

“[T]otal savings for society represented 784 million or 1.4 billion USD for the YHEC and Cochrane scenarios, respectively,” ​wrote Lenoir-Wijnkoop and her co-workers.

The authors did note that they did not factor in the actual cost of the probiotics themselves.

“Although costs of probiotic foods and dietary supplements do not weigh on the health care payers’ resources, their purchase may put an extra burden on the average household expenses,” ​they wrote. “Due to an absence of reliable information and a great variation in products with a wide range of unit prices, it was not possible to evaluate how much this would represent. However, these additional household costs would probably be offset by other expenses, such as costs related to self-medication and purchase of over-the-counter drugs and costs related to informal care for sick children or the elderly and associated with missed schooldays.”

Costs savings around the world

Lenoir-Wijnkoop has modeled the economic benefits of probiotics in other countries, including Canada and France.

For Canada, data published in the 2016 in PLOS One​ indicated that probiotics could reduce healthcare costs by as much as Can$100 million  as a result of 82,000 fewer doses of antibiotics, and reduce absenteeism by as much as 500,000 days in the general population of Canada.

For France, data published in 2015 (also in PLOS One​) showed that probiotics use could save the country’s health service between €14.6 million and €37.7 million.

Source: Frontiers in Pharmacology
28 August 2019, doi: 10.3389/fphar.2019.00980
“Probiotics Reduce Health Care Cost and Societal Impact of Flu-Like Respiratory Tract Infections in the USA: An Economic Modeling Study”
Authors: I. Lenoir-Wijnkoop et al.

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