Probiotics for respiratory tract infections could save Canada nearly $100 million a year

A recent study suggests the use of probiotics to prevent respiratory tract infections in Canada could result in nearly $100 million per year in savings.

There is growing evidence that probiotics can reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections and lower their frequency, as well as reduce the duration of an infection, antibiotic use and absences from work. Replicating a research model used in France, researchers examined the potential clinical and economic impacts in Canada.

Sponsored by The Alliance for Education on Probiotics, the study included researchers from Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson), Western UniversityLaval University and Utrecht University. It incorporated two separate scenarios from two meta-analyses. A meta-analysis combines data from multiple studies using a statistical approach.

Results from the study showed that regular probiotic use could eliminate between 573,000 to 2.3 million days per year of respiratory tract infections, resulting in 330,000 to 500,000 fewer sick days for Canadians and 52,000 to 84,000 fewer antibiotic prescriptions. This would translate to $1.3 to $8.9 million in health system savings. When accounting for productivity losses due to illness, it could save $61.2 to $99.7 million.

Respiratory tract infections are highly contagious infections of the sinus, throat or airways, including influenza or ‘the flu.’ Currently, 5 to 20 per cent of the Canadian population experience at least one respiratory tract infection per year. It’s estimated that respiratory tract infections represent 2.9 per cent of all health care costs in Canada.

“If we could reduce the burden of respiratory tract infections, it would benefit both patients and Canadian taxpayers,” says Dr. Gregor Reid, Director for the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotic Research at Lawson, and Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

The research showed that children under the age of 10, individuals living in a community setting (including office work in open spaces) and those not vaccinated against influenza would benefit the most.

Respiratory tract infections are typically viral in nature. Existing treatments rely on symptom control while an estimated 26 per cent of patients are also prescribed antibiotics. These antibiotics are largely unnecessary since antibiotics are not effective against viruses. “Antibiotics are often prescribed even when an infection is likely to be viral. Antibiotics can have serious side effects like destroying many beneficial bacteria in the human body,” says Dr. Reid. 

Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

“People are increasingly making probiotics a part of their daily diet or dietary supplements for their proven health benefits,” explains Dr. Reid “The fact that probiotics can also be used to prevent respiratory tract infections makes them even more important.”

Dr. Reid notes that several probiotic products can be effective in preventing respiratory tract infections, as outlined in the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Supplements. These include probiotic yogurts and oral capsules.

The study, “The Clinical and Economic Impact of Probiotics Consumption on Respiratory Tract Infections: Projections for Canada,” is published on PLoS One.

Gregor Reid

Above: Dr. Gregor Reid (Photo credit: Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry)