Viral respiratory tract infection (VRTI) is the most common illness in humans. Despite
the high incidence, the economic impact of non-influenza-related VRTI has not been
rigorously explored. Our objectives were to obtain an updated incidence of non-influenza-related
VRTI in the United States and to quantify the health care resource use (direct costs)
and productivity losses (indirect costs) associated with these infections.
A nationwide telephone survey of US households (N = 4051) was conducted between November
3, 2000, and February 12, 2001 to obtain a representative estimate of the self-reported
incidence of non-influenza-related VRTI and related treatment patterns. Direct treatment
costs measured included outpatient clinician encounters, use of over-the-counter and
prescription drugs, and associated infectious complications of non-influenza-related
VRTI. Absenteeism estimates for infected individuals and parents of infected children
were extrapolated from National Health Interview Survey data.
Of survey respondents, 72% reported a non-influenza-related VRTI within the past year.
Respondents who experienced a self-reported non-influenza-related VRTI averaged 2.5
episodes annually. When these rates are extrapolated to the entire US population,
approximately 500 million non-influenza-related VRTI episodes occur per year. Similarly,
if the treatment patterns reported by the respondents are extended to the population,
the total economic impact of non-influenza-related VRTI approaches $40 billion annually
(direct costs, $17 billion per year; and indirect costs, $22.5 billion per year).
Largely because of the high attack rate, non-influenza-related VRTI imposes a greater
economic burden than many other clinical conditions. The pending availability of effective
antiviral therapies warrants increased attention be paid to this common and expensive