Six-fold rise in patients suffering from bug that causes acute diarrhoea and vomiting
Health chiefs have expressed concern over a hike in the Irish detection rate of a parasitic intestinal bug more commonly linked to contaminated water and poor hygiene in the developing world.
The number of cases of giardiasis have soared by an alarming 613pc in Ireland over the past five years.
Ireland dealt with just 44 confirmed cases in 2013 but last year dealt with 270, a six-fold increase.
Giardiasis is caused by a tiny parasite. While the condition rarely proves a serious threat to health, it involves unpleasant symptoms such as severe stomach cramps, acute diarrhoea and vomiting.
Traditionally giardiasis is associated with the developing world and areas which have contaminated water supplies from poor sanitation.
The parasite spreads from host to host via either contaminated water or by human contact.
Once inside the intestine, the parasite protects itself with a hard shell known as a giardia cyst. These cysts are then passed when the infected person goes to the toilet. They can then be transferred to a new host via water contamination or by contact, particularly if the individual has not washed their hands properly.
"It can affect people of all ages but it is most common in young children and their parents. This is because activities such as nappy changing increase the risk of infection," a HSE official explained.
"There are on average around 60 to 70 cases of giardiasis reported in Ireland each year. But the true number is likely to be higher as many cases go undiagnosed."
One in three cases of giardiasis are contracted while the patient is abroad.