Urinary infections could cost Aust $1b

Callum Godde
·2-min read

It might be an embarrassing affliction but the common urinary tract infection is fast becoming a serious health and economic burden, according to Australian researchers.

And it could get a lot worse, with the cost of UTIs potentially exceeding $1 billion a year if the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs goes unchecked.

New analysis from national consortium Outbreak, led by the University of Technology, Sydney, found urinary infections are now harder to treat, with more patients ending up in hospital sapping beds and medical resources.

Drug-resistant UTIs are the canary in the coal mine for a growing number of superbugs spreading in the community, environment and animals, Outbreak managing director Branwen Morgan said.

"Drug-resistant infections are a global health threat but this is the first time we've been able to connect the overuse and misuse of antibiotics to the health and economic impact of a single disease," Associate Professor Morgan said.

UTIs affect one in two Australian women and one in 20 men in their lifetime.

Based on calculations incorporating national and regional data from the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD), there were more than 2.5 million GP appointments, 100,000 emergency visits and 75,000 hospital stays each year for UTIs.

The report put the total annual cost of UTIs on Australia's health system at $909 million, but that estimate didn't include indirect productivity losses.

If nothing is done to stop increasing antibiotic-resistance, Prof Morgan said that number could blow out to $1.6 billion by 2030.

"Those figures are very conservative and don't take into account the increasing numbers of people with UTIs, so realistically it could cost much, much more than that," he said.

University of Wollongong Professor Antoine van Oijen says the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria is a slow-moving but serious threat.

"COVID-19 is a very powerful example of how one untreatable virus can bring economies to their knees," he said.

"But drug-resistant bacteria are a bigger, more pervasive problem in health settings and throughout the community."

Infectious diseases specialist at ISLHD Simeon Crawford said a wider variety and volume of information is needed to combat the growing resistance of UTIs to antibiotics.

"With the right information we can use antibiotics in a more targeted way; saving lives, saving money and protecting the effectiveness of these invaluable medicines for as long as possible," Dr Crawford said.