Appeal from public health doctors as local outbreak of E. coli is confirmed

Appeal from public health doctors as local outbreak of E. coli is confirmed

The Department of Public Health Mid West is appealing to people to exercise good hand hygiene

THE Department of Public Health Mid-West is emphasising the importance of strong hand hygiene and effective well water treatment, following a recent outbreak of Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) in a single setting in the Mid-West region.

VTEC is a powerful strain of E. coli bacterium that can cause serious illness in children aged under five, and the elderly. 

Public Health Mid-West is currently managing an outbreak among young children in a single setting.

"We can confirm that it is currently under control. We would like to reassure the public that these isolated outbreaks do not affect the department’s work in managing the Covid-19 pandemic, or any other infectious disease in the region," said a spokesperson

VTEC can live in the gut of healthy cattle and sheep, but can be a source of food poisoning and can produce a toxin that can cause inflammation of the bowel which can lead to severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhoea which can last between two and nine days.

Other people may experience very mild or no symptoms at all. A hospital laboratory can confirm the presence of VTEC if you provide a stool sample to your doctor.

According to the HSE, the most common ways to be infected with VTEC are through contact with farm animals (including those in pet and open farms), untreated water from private wells, person to person contact in creches or households where there are children under five years of age, and through food and drinks that are contaminated with tiny amounts of faecal matter.

VTEC is usually uncomplicated and most people recover without issue, and it can be treated by drinking plenty of fluids. Antibiotics do not kill the VTEC germs, and may increase the risk of Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome which in a minority of cases leads to the destruction of red blood cells and kidney failure. 

According to the Department of Public Health Mid West, incidence of VTEC tends to be higher in warmer weather, particularly over the summer time, though the annual case number is likely to be lower in 2021.

Dr Rose Fitzgerald, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, commented: “Ireland has one of the highest incidence rates of VTEC in Europe, and the Mid-West has one of highest incidence rates in Ireland. While VTEC can last in the system for as short as a week, it can sometimes take several months to clear the infection. Anyone who is infected, or is a close contact of a case requires clearance from a public health doctor to attend healthcare, childcare or work that involves food-handling."

She added: “It’s a serious disease that can cause serious life-changing illness in young children and the elderly. It underpins the importance of hand hygiene before and after preparing food, after contact with farm animals and their environment, and effective treatment and rehabilitation of private wells. We encourage everyone in Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary to avail of their respective council’s domestic well grant schemes to ensure that your private water supply is clean. This financial assistance could prevent serious illness and save a life.”

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