ANN ARBOR, Mich., Feb. 24 (UPI) — The common cold costs Americans $40 billion each year, a new analysis released Monday estimates. Although not as serious as heart failure, colds overall make a deeper dent in people’s pockets. It also is pricier than asthma and emphysema, researchers said.

“I’ve always thought that very common although not serious conditions are very costly,” said Dr. Mark Fendrick, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

Fendrick compared the phenomenon to markets for Ford Tauruses and Maseratis. Maseratis are much more expensive, he said, but much more money is spent on the Taurus, overall.

To investigate his suspicions, Fendrick led efforts to survey more than 4,000 U.S. households. The results, published in the Feb. 24 Archives of Internal Medicine, showed nearly three-fourths of participants had suffered a cold within the past year. On average, respondents said they got a cold not just once during the year but 2.5 times.

To come up with the $40 billion price tag, researchers tallied doctor’s bills, medication costs for the 500 million yearly incidents of the pesky ailment and the price of missing work and school.

Half of the bill comes from almost 400 million missed days at work and at school, Fendrick found. Children stay home to prevent infecting other children and parents take time off work to take care of them, he explained.

Another line item from the bill goes toward antibiotics. The study reported cold sufferers spent more than $1 billion on antibiotics, which do not defend against the common cold viruses.

“People spend $5 to $10 per cold,” Fendrick noted. “Individuals need to realize the effectiveness of these medications have not been demonstrated. (In addition) many do not need to take multiremedy drugs.” He added that if cold sufferers with one main symptom buy medication, they should buy a kind that treats what ails them the most, not something for many symptoms. The common cold is one of the most significant drains on our economy, Fendrick said.

People waste money on drugs they often do not need and they contribute to increasing antibiotic resistance, Fendrick explained.

“He’s at least partly right,” said Raylana Anderson, director of human resources at Clark Engineers Inc., Peoria, Ill.

Today, more companies allow employees to take paid time off to take care of sick family members than before, Anderson said. Although $40 billion is nothing to sneeze at, she added, “I think he’s missing something.”

The already high price tag does not include “presenteeism,” Anderson said — people who go to work despite their colds and whose productivity goes down as a result of cold symptoms, she explained.

“People are dragging themselves in when you wish they’d stay at home,” Anderson said. “It goes back to people being responsible for their own health.”

”’Reported by Christine Suh, UPI Science News, in Washington”’

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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