Fears grow as E.coli infection spreads

This article is from page 6 of the 2012-07-31 edition of The Clare People. OCR mistakes are to be expected so download the original SWF or the rendered page 6 JPG

THE number of cases of a potentially life-threatening infection has trebled in the region in the last year.

Figures from the HSE show that a 200 per cent increase in the number of VTEC E.coli infections notified in Ireland during the first half of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011. This increase comes on top of continual increased incidence rates since 2005.

In the Mid West region alone Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary – the number of cases reported during the first six months of this year had reached 40.

Concern relating to the increase in infection, especially in rural areas, has resulted in the HSE forming a multi-agency expert group to deal with the outbreak.

The agency is made up of the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture and Food, the HSE, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, safefood, Teagasc, the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities and will look at both short term and medium term actions to deal with this problem. Actions will include the roll out of awareness campaigns for the public, farming communities and childcare facilities as well as on-going liaison with these groups.

Dr Patrick O’Sullivan, Director of Public Health, HSE Mid-West explained, “VTEC is a germ that can cause infection if swallowed and usually causes a mild illness. Most people recover completely without any problems.

“However, VTEC produces a toxin that may damage the bowel wall causing severe bloody diarrhoea. In about five to eight per cent of cases, the infection causes a life-threatening complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).

“In HUS, the red blood cells are destroyed and kidney failure occurs. Up to nine per cent of people who develop HUS following VTEC infection die. HUS is more likely to occur in children aged under five and the elderly.

“Part of this year’s increase is explained by improved sensitivity of laboratory testing methods and most cases have occurred in rural areas,” he said.

More than half the cases of VTEC are in children under the age of five, while 13 cases of VTEC associated HUS.

The public can help prevent the spread of VTEC by carefully washing hands, ensuring well water supplies are chlorinated or ultraviolet treated before using for drinking, preparing food and brushing teeth.

VTEC is killed by heat so meat should be fully cooked.

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