Provisional figures from the HSE show a 200% 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.
Two hundred and twelve cases were reported nationally in the first six months of 2012 compared with 69 cases for the same period last year. 29 of the cases this year were reported in the North West region (Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim), according to Dr. Anthony Breslin, Public Health Specialist, HSE North West.
“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 5-8% 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 9% of people who develop HUS following VTEC infection die. HUS is more likely to occur in children aged under 5 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.
“Nationally, eight outbreaks involving childcare facilities have been reported and 56% of cases were in children under the age of 5 years. There were 13 cases of VTEC associated HUS,” Dr. Breslin said.
The public can help to prevent the spread of VTEC by:
- Careful hand washing. Hands should be washed after handling animals, after using the toilet, after helping others use the toilet or changing nappies, before eating, and before and after preparing food. Young children should be assisted and supervised when washing their hands
- Well water supplies should be chlorinated or ultraviolet treated before using for drinking, preparing food and brushing teeth.
- VTEC is killed by heat. Meat (especially minced meat and burgers) that could be contaminated with VTEC should be fully cooked. Children and the elderly, who are particularly susceptible to HUS should avoid raw or rare meat and unpasteurised dairy products. Raw vegetables and fruit should be peeled or washed in drinking water.
- Anyone with diarrhoea should stay away from work, school and especially childcare facilities and food premises until the diarrhoea has stopped for at least 48 hours.
- Childcare workers and crèche owners need to ensure that they have in place policies and practices which are adequate to prevent transmission of VTEC.
The HSE has initiated a multi-agency group comprising 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 to 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.