High alert as outbreak of E coli here is 'inevitable'
Published 04/06/2011 | 05:00
IRISH health authorities are on a state of high alert for an "inevitable" outbreak of the killer E coli bug that has already caused 18 deaths in Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
The director of the HSE's Public Health Laboratory, microbiologist Dr Eleanor McNamara, said an outbreak plan had been put in place to deal with any surge in suspect cases should the bug spread to Ireland, having already reached 10 European countries and the US.
"It's probably inevitable with the amount of travel, both from tourism and business, between Ireland and the continent ... that we may well see some cases," she said.
Her laboratory is working very closely with the Health Surveillance Protection Centre and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland with daily meetings to monitor the situation, but so far there haven't been any suspect cases.
Dr McNamara urged the public to follow strong hygiene guidelines on frequent and thorough handwashing after using the toilet and before eating, and to ensure small children were helped with this.
Gel wipes are also helpful as, though highly virulent, the bug is easy to kill to prevent person-to-person transmission.
The Public Health Laboratory had regularly dealt with significant outbreaks of similar toxin-producing E coli and had established protocols on screening children and households where outbreaks occurred to ensure it had not spread, she said.
Around 200 people a year in Ireland were affected by these outbreaks, with 10pc developing potentially fatal haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which leads to kidney failure and bleeding disorders, although there had been no deaths in recent years.
However, the new German strain appeared more serious, as around 30pc of those infected had gone on to develop HUS. More than 1,600 people have been infected there, 499 of them seriously, according to the latest figures.
Dr McNamara stressed that the vast majority of people would still recover and it was vital that anyone with symptoms of gastroenteritis seek medical attention immediately.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) called on public health authorities to do more to reassure consumers that Irish-grown fruit and vegetables are completely safe and unaffected by the outbreak.
Amidst concerns that Holland and Spain could dump cheap produce into Ireland, the IFA also called on retailers to highlight where their produce came from and said it would be unacceptable if any supply contracts with Irish farmers were not honoured.