Open Access Research article

Population distribution and burden of acute gastrointestinal illness in British Columbia, Canada

M Kate Thomas12*, Shannon E Majowicz12, Laura MacDougall3, Paul N Sockett12, Suzie J Kovacs14, Murray Fyfe35, Victoria L Edge12, Kathryn Doré12, James A Flint1, Spencer Henson6 and Andria Q Jones7*

Author Affiliations

1 Foodborne, Waterborne and Zoonotic Infections Division, Public Health Agency of Canada, Guelph and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

2 Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

3 British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

4 Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, California, USA

5 Vancouver Island Health Authority, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

6 Department of Agricultural Economics and Business, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

7 Division of Community Health, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:307  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-307

Published: 19 December 2006



In developed countries, gastrointestinal illness (GI) is typically mild and self-limiting, however, it has considerable economic impact due to high morbidity.


The magnitude and distribution of acute GI in British Columbia (BC), Canada was evaluated via a cross-sectional telephone survey of 4,612 randomly selected residents, conducted from June 2002 to June 2003. Respondents were asked if they had experienced vomiting or diarrhoea in the 28 days prior to the interview.


A response rate of 44.3% was achieved. A monthly prevalence of 9.2% (95%CI 8.4 – 10.0), an incidence rate of 1.3 (95% CI 1.1–1.4) episodes of acute GI per person-year, and an average probability that an individual developed illness in the year of 71.6% (95% CI 68.0–74.8), weighted by population size were observed. The average duration of illness was 3.7 days, translating into 19.2 million days annually of acute GI in BC.


The results corroborate those from previous Canadian and international studies, highlighting the substantial burden of acute GI.