Priest dies after reaction to yellow fever vaccine taken for trip to Africa
A WELL-known priest died after suffering a very rare adverse reaction to the yellow fever vaccine, an inquest has heard.
Fr Gerard Cusack (71), prior of the Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott, died at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin on March 18 last year, 11 days after he had been given the vaccine in advance of a trip to central Africa.
Fr Cusack came to prominence when he became leader of the Norbertine order in the wake of revelations about paedophile priest Brendan Smyth, who is buried at the abbey in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent two years ago, he recalled how he did not suspect Smyth who was a "clever, intelligent man".
But he said the fallout for priests was extremely difficult and some were afraid to wear their collars while walking down the street.
"Priests would be spat upon. I suppose there is a suspicion out there," he said.
Dublin Coroner's Court heard that there have been only 60 documented cases of death due to the vaccine worldwide since its introduction in the 1930s.
Fr Cusack was due to travel to Tanzania to inspect works on a church roof, paid for through fundraising efforts.
His sister Marie Crossan said that he was generally in good health with no medical complaints.
He attended the Tropical Medical Bureau (TMB) clinic on Grafton Street on March 7 where he was initially seen by Dr William Yap and subsequently a member of the nursing staff.
He was prescribed medication for his upcoming trip and given a number of vaccinations including yellow fever. When he left 20 to 30 minutes later, Fr Cusack appeared to be in good health, he said. Fr Cusack subsequently presented himself at Cavan General Hospital on March 15, complaining of feeling ill for a week.
His GP had prescribed an antibiotic but this had no effect.
His condition deteriorated rapidly over the following 36 hours and he was transferred to Beaumont Hospital where he died from multi-organ failure on March 18.
Professor Peter Conlon, consultant nephrologist at Beaumont, said there is no treatment for yellow fever other than "supportive" measures and the disease is fatal in 20pc of cases.
The post-mortem confirmed the presence of yellow fever in the liver and that the strain of the disease was the same as the one administered to Fr Cusack in the vaccine.
The cause of death was acute liver and kidney failure due to an adverse reaction to the yellow fever vaccine.
The TMB treats 3,000 people each year with the vaccine and this is the first time they have seen an adverse reaction, the inquest heard. The inquest was adjourned to August 19.