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Press Releases - 2001

Major International Conference To Discuss Control Of Infectious Diseases And Environmental Hazards Held In Dublin


The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Micheal Martin opened a major three-day international conference today in Dublin Castle on the epidemiology and control of infectious diseases and environmental hazards. Hosted by the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) this year, the conference is co-organised by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) Communicable Disease Surveillance Centres in London, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health. 

"We are delighted to have the opportunity to host this major conference in Dublin," said Dr Derval Igoe, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, NDSC. "Consultants in Communicable Disease Control, Specialists and Consultants in Public Health Medicine and their colleagues in relevant disciplines from both Ireland and the United Kingdom will attend this conference to discuss a wide range of current issues in the fields of infectious diseases and environmental hazards,"  

The objectives of the conference are:

Speakers opening the first day of the conference addressed antimicrobial resistance and hospital acquired infection including the economic impact of this problem. Other topical issues being discussed include: childhood vaccinations including an examination of the impact of the meningitis C vaccine on meningococcal disease in Ireland; social inequalities and infectious disease; sexually transmitted diseases in particular, syphilis in Dublin among men who have sex with men; the public health response to the threat of bioterrorism; the future of the environment and health; and food safety. 

This is the first year that this conference has been held in Dublin.

Possibility of Heroin Contamination


Following initial reports in the UK, the NDSC wishes to draw attention to the possible contamination of batches of heroin in Ireland and advises all heroin users to be aware of this possibility and to seek immediate medical attention if they develop any unusual symptoms such as skin abscesses.

Public Health Directors in all local health boards and Hospital Accident & Emergency Departments have been advised about this possibility.

Initial reports from the UK suggest that this may be similar to the contaminated batch which was distributed in Dublin last summer and which claimed the lives of eight heroin users. Between April 1st and August 1st 2000, over thirty heroin injectors died from a serious infection caused by a bacterium called 'Clostridium'. Within a couple of days, this infection in the muscle tissue of infected drug users releases toxins into the bloodstream causing serious illness often leading to rapid death. Affected drug users who have injected heroin into a muscle or under the skin (skin popping) may experience swelling, redness and pain where they injected themselves and should get a doctor to check these reactions immediately.

Possibility of Heroin Contamination


Following initial reports in the UK, the NDSC wishes to draw attention to the possible contamination of batches of heroin in Ireland and advises all heroin users to be aware of this possibility and to seek immediate medical attention if they develop any unusual symptoms such as skin abscesses.

Public Health Directors in all local health boards and Hospital Accident & Emergency Departments have been advised about this possibility.

Initial reports from the UK suggest that this may be similar to the contaminated batch which was distributed in Dublin last summer and which claimed the lives of eight heroin users.

 

New Report Rejects MMR Vaccine And Autism Link


The NDSC today welcomed a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the US which has rejected an association between autism and childhood immunisation with MMR. The Committee concluded that a consistent body of epidemiological evidence shows no association at the population level between MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

"This report supports the policy of leading health organisations world-wide such as the World Health Organisation which strongly recommend and endorse use of the MMR vaccine," said Dr Darina O'Flanagan, Director, NDSC. "We would urge all parents to bring their children forward to receive their vaccines in accordance with the immunisation schedule."

The report states that there has been no new scientific evidence that would suggest impaired safety of MMR. On the contrary, all results from vaccine trials published reaffirm the high safety and efficacy of MMR vaccine. The WHO noted that other scientists have not been able to reproduce the results claimed by Dr Wakefield and his team regarding measles virus in the gut.

The number of cases of measles in Ireland rose dramatically during 2000 with 1,602 cases reported. The measles virus can cause permanent brain damage and in some cases can prove fatal. Three children died from complications of measles in the 2000 outbreak.

The MMR vaccine, which is free, can prevent measles in over 90% of cases. This vaccine is given by a GP/ Family Doctor to all children aged 15 and a second dose is now given at primary school at age 5-6 years. With the second dose, over 99% of immunized children are protected from measles infection. 

Complications associated with measles include severe cough and breathing difficulties (croup), ear infections, viral and bacterial lung infection (pneumonia) and eye infections. Other more serious problems involve the nervous system and inflammation of the brain. Severe disease and complications are most likely in young children under 5 years and adults over 20 years. While complications are more common in those who are malnourished or those whose immune system is not working properly, it is important to realise that almost half of the deaths associated with measles occur in previously healthy children and young adults.

Meningitis C Vaccine


The National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) wishes to urge all parents of children aged under five and young people aged 15-18 years (inclusive) due the Meningitis C vaccine to receive it without delay. The NDSC wishes to reiterate that the balance of risk and benefit is overwhelmingly favourable and the Meningitis C vaccination provides a clear benefit in terms of lives saved and disabilities prevented.    

The number of incidences of Meningitis C has been reduced dramatically in Ireland since the vaccine was made available in September. Only three cases of Meningitis C were reported in November which is the lowest figure recorded for a number of years. These early figures demonstrating a drop in incidence since the implementation of the vaccination programme is extremely promising. Given that one in ten people who suffer Meningitis C die from the infection, this demonstrates that the vaccines have already saved lives.  

To date, 350,000 doses of the Meningitis C vaccine have been distributed in Ireland and side effects have been reported in 143 children. There are some side effects associated with the vaccine, which are generally not serious. These occur in all age groups and include nausea, vomiting, headache and a feeling of general malaise or aches and pains. We wish to reiterate that such side effects and reactions were expected and the balance of risk and benefit is overwhelmingly favourable.

To date over 15 million doses of the Meningitis C vaccines have been distributed in the UK. Last winter there was approximately a 75% reduction in the number of confirmed cases of Meningitis C disease in the 15-17 and under 1 year olds (the first group to be vaccinated) compared to the previous winter.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of Meningococcal Group C infection in the developed world and the infection claimed 11 lives out of the 165 confirmed cases reported in Ireland between July 1999 and June 2000. There has also been a 43% increase in the incidence of meningitis Group C infection in the last year and therefore it is of great concern to health professionals in Ireland.

The National Meningitis C Immunisation Programme was launched in Ireland on the 4th October 2000 by Mr Micheal Martin, T.D. and Minister for Health and Children. The immunisation programme will involve approximately 1.3 million people. Every person in Ireland aged 22 or under will be offered immunisation as part of this phased programme.

 

1597 Reported Cases of Measles So Far This Year - 1248 of These Cases in Eastern Regional Health Authority. Measles epidemics occur because Irish Children are not being vaccinated. Protect Your Children Against This Virulent Life-Threatening Infection


The NDSC again strongly urges all parents and carers to have their children vaccinated against measles. The MMR vaccine, which is free, can prevent measles in over 90% of cases. This vaccine is given by your GP/ Family Doctor to all children aged 15 months (with the exception of children in Dublin who are given the vaccine at 12 months in the whole of the ERHA region because of the increased number of cases there) and a second dose is now given at primary school at age 5-6 years. With the second dose, over 99% of immunized children are protected from measles infection.

"So far (up to 23rd December 2000) the National Disease Surveillance Centre has received notification of 1597 cases of measles in comparison to only 148 cases in total in 1999. 1248 of these cases have been in the Eastern Regional Health Authority (formerly known as the Eastern Health Board). Present vaccination uptake levels against measles are as low as 73% to 75% in some parts of the country when they should be at least 95%. This is leaving Irish children vulnerable to epidemics" commented Dr Darina O'Flanagan, Director of the NDSC.

Measles is an acute infection which usually occurs in children age 1-4 years of age who have not yet been vaccinated against it but it can also occur at any age. Measles is caught through direct contact with an infected person or through the air by coughing and sneezing. It is highly infectious before the rash appears.

Complications associated with measles include severe cough and breathing difficulties (croup), ear infections, viral and bacterial lung infection (pneumonia) and eye infections. Other more serious problems involve the nervous system and inflammation of the brain. Severe disease and complications are most likely in young children under 5 years and adults over 20 years. While complications are more common in those who are malnourished or those whose immune system is not working properly, it is important to realise that almost half of the deaths associated with measles occur in previously healthy children and young adults.

Editors Notes:

The Royal College of Physicians has recently changed the age of the second dose of MMR to 5-6 years. Previously children received the second dose at 11-12 years. The change in the timing of the second dose is intended to provide protection for the 5-10% of children who do not respond to the first dose.

MMR Uptake by Health Board at 2 years of age in 2000*

Health Board                        MMR % Uptake

Eastern                                   74%

Midland                                   73%

Mid-Western                           73%

North Eastern                         80%

North Western                        73%

South Eastern                         87%

Southern                                 74%

Western                                  82%

 *(based on Quarter 1 & 2 only)


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