THE Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is probing several cases of E coli poisoning here to see if they are linked to a major UK outbreak.
Some 17 people have become ill with E coli 0157 in the past month here, while there have also been 19 cases in Britain – where contaminated watercress is the suspected cause.
One person in Ireland has been treated for E coli poisoning in recent weeks, and health bosses are trying to pinpoint the cause, which could be linked to contaminated water or food.
FSAI director of consumer protection Ray Ellard said that news of a similar E coli 0157 outbreak in Britain on Thursday focused attention on whether there was a common cause in the two countries.
In the UK, supermarket chain Sainsbury's recalled all its watercress products this week because of a possible link.
Mr Ellard said that although there was no Sainsbury's in the Republic, the FSAI was checking supply lines to see if watercress products were supplied to outlets in Ireland.
It is also working with the Health Surveillance Protection Centre and liaising with health investigators in the UK to see if both E coli outbreaks share an identical genetic make-up.
Although both are of the serious E coli 0157, it is not yet clear if they are an identical viral strain of the bug, he said.
E coli 0157 can cause mild gastroenteritis to severe, bloody diarrhoea with blood poisoning and kidney failure in very severe cases.
The Health Service Executive confirmed it was investigating an E coli outbreak.
"The HSE is investigating an outbreak of VTEC O157 vt2.
"Since the beginning of August 17, cases of this bug have been identified.
"The cases are distributed around the country and all age groups are affected. Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of this outbreak," it said in a statement.
There are around 460 cases a year of E coli infection in Ireland, Mr Ellard said.
In Britain, the Food Standards Agency said that 19 people had been infected in England, Wales and Scotland and a number of these were being treated in hospital.
Sainsbury's said the FSA had informed them that watercress bought at their stores since August 1 was one of the lines of investigation and though no traces of contamination had been found, they had withdrawn six lines containing watercress as a precaution.
"We are urgently testing all similar products and have to date found no indication of contamination. We will, of course, keep customers fully updated," Sainsbury's said.