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Press Releases - 2003

Speech by NDSC Director, Dr Darina O'Flanagan at the launch of the NDSC 2002 Annual Report


I'd like to thank Minister Callely for coming along today to launch the National Disease Surveillance Centre's Annual Report for 2002.

The 2002 report builds on work covered in previous years and will be a comprehensive source of information for anyone with an interest in infectious disease in Ireland.

This is our fourth report and it highlights - more than ever the remarkable achievements in recent years in the field of communicable disease control.

The breakthrough in the battle against meningococcal disease is particularly pleasing for people working in public health in Ireland.

Meningococcal disease - the most common form of bacterial meningitis in Ireland - accounts for up to 90% of cases and has declined significantly since the introduction of the MenC vaccine in October 2000. 

Before the vaccine was introduced we averaged 130 cases and six deaths from group C disease each year. In 2002 there were just 14 cases of group C disease and no deaths.

New figures released by NDSC today - show just three cases in 2003. This is a ringing endorsement of the remarkable success of the vaccination programme.   

This represents an almost 98% decrease in group C disease in Ireland since the vaccine was introduced.  

It means that 127 fewer families suffered the trauma of childhood meningococcal disease in 2003.   

The MenC vaccination campaign has been a major public health success story. To build on this success it is vital that the current MenC uptake levels are maintained and improved on.  

We must remain vigilant. The advice to parents remains the same. We must ensure that infants less than one year of age receive the recommended three doses at 2, 4 and 6 months and that older children between 1 and 22 years of age who have not already availed of the MenC vaccine receive the recommended dose.

The vaccine is available free from GPs.

Unfortunately however, there is no vaccine available yet for Group B disease. Its incidence remains high in Ireland and therefore, it is vital that parents and health care professionals remain alert for signs and symptoms of the disease.
 
Classical symptoms and signs include temperature, severe headache, neck stiffness, nausea and/or vomiting, dislike of bright lights, drowsiness and joint or muscle pains. The patient may be confused and disoriented or have fitting episodes.

It remains for me to thank all of the staff at NDSC for their ongoing commitment and professionalism throughout the year.

Our Annual Report is a microcosm of the work carried out by public health professionals around the country and will be an invaluable reference source for anyone with an interested in communicable diseases in 2003.

NDSC urges high-risk categories to get vaccinated against flu as cases more than double in two weeks


The National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Wednesday) urged people in high-risk categories to get vaccinated against influenza, as the number of reported cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) reported in Ireland has more than doubled in the past two weeks.

High-risk categories include:

"The rate of ILI cases has risen to an estimated 70 cases for every 100,000 people over the past week, the highest rate reported in Ireland for this time of year since influenza surveillance began in 2000," according to NDSC clinical microbiologist, Dr Robert Cunney.

"Influenza viruses are divided into three main types, A, B and C. Influenza A generally causes the most severe form of the disease. Different strains of influenza virus circulate worldwide every year and the influenza vaccine is updated each year to cover the strains that are likely to cause infection during the coming influenza season, usually from November to April.

"The National Virus Reference Laboratory has confirmed that the main strain circulating in Ireland is an influenza A (H3N2) Fujian-like strain. The same strain is circulating in other European countries, including the UK. This strain is slightly different to the influenza A (H3N2) Panama-like virus, which has circulated in Ireland and other European countries over the past few years. The current influenza vaccine contains the Panama-like virus and is considered to offer some protection against the Fujian-like strain and good protection against other strains that may also circulate.

"The symptoms of influenza infection usually develop over a matter of a few hours and include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat. This is different from the common cold, which tends to come on more gradually and usually includes a runny nose and a normal temperature. Persons who are in one of the high risk categories should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms," said Dr Cunney.

Health authorities in the UK have reported six deaths related to influenza A in children in the past two months. It is not known if this represents a genuine increase in deaths from influenza, as it may be related to new technologies that are used to detect the influenza virus. "No deaths from influenza have been reported in Ireland, despite high levels of influenza activity, two large outbreaks in schools and the use of the same new technologies for influenza detection here," Dr Cunney explained.

ILI rates give an indication of the overall level of influenza activity in Ireland and are reported by selected general practitioners as part of a surveillance system jointly run by the Irish College of General Practitioners, the National Virus Reference Laboratory and the National Disease Surveillance Centre. 

Sexually Transmitted Infections up 9.4%. Largest rises in syphilis, hepatitis B, herpes and chlamydia


Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) increased by 9.4% in 2001 when compared with 2000, according to the latest available figures released by the National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Tuesday).

The largest increases were in syphilis, which rose by 506.5% and infectious hepatitis B which was up by 160%. Other significant increases include genital herpes simplex (up 23.1%), chlamydia (up 22.8%) and gonorrhoea which saw a 20.3% rise.

Commenting on the figures, NDSC Specialist in Public Health Medicine, Dr Mary Cronin, said that while the increases in reported cases reflect unsafe sexual practices, other factors include increased testing for chlamydia and greater public and professional awareness of STIs.

"I would urge those who are sexually active to practice safe sex, as most STIs are preventable.
Many STIs, like chlamydia, may have no signs or symptoms. Almost all STIs are easily treated and cured if identified, but early diagnosis and treatment is important as, if left untreated, irreversible complications including infertility and ectopic pregnancies can arise.

"Those who have a sexually transmitted infection are also more vulnerable to HIV, and have a higher chance of passing on, or acquiring the disease.

"The most commonly reported infections in 2001 were anogenital warts, non specific urethritis and chlamydia."

NDSC publishes HIV and AIDS figures for 2002


The National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Tuesday) published figures outlining the number of HIV and AIDS cases recorded in Ireland in 2002.

The figures show that there were 364 cases of HIV in Ireland in 2002 - a 22% increase when compared with 2001. The majority of cases - 63.5% - were among heterosexuals representing a rise of 34% between 2001 and 2002. 198 (54.4%) of those diagnosed in 2002 were female, and 165 (45.3%) were male. Over 80% of these cases were in 20 to 40 year olds.

186 of the newly diagnosed cases (51.1%) in 2002 were among people born in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of diagnoses mirrors the epidemiology of HIV in other Western European countries and is not unexpected, given that 70% of the world's HIV cases are found in sub-Saharan Africa.

There were 46 new diagnoses among men who have sex with men during 2002, compared with 73 for the previous year - a 37% decrease. There was a rise in the number of infections in intravenous drug users from 38 to 50, representing a 32% increase. NDSC public health specialist, Dr Mary Cronin said that the number of infections among intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men tend to fluctuate from year to year. "The figures should be interpreted with caution, as it remains to be seen whether the trends will be sustained," she said.

It is important to note that these figures do not represent the number of people infected with the HIV virus in Ireland, but rather provide information on the number of new diagnoses in 2002. The number of new diagnoses reported is dependent on patterns of HIV testing and reporting.

There were 12 cases of AIDS reported to the NDSC in 2002, bringing the total number of AIDS cases in Ireland to date to 731. This figure is likely to be an underestimation as there is a delay in reporting AIDS cases in Ireland. Seven of the 12 cases (58%) reported in 2002 were amongst heterosexuals. There were four AIDS related deaths reported in 2002, bringing the total number of AIDS related deaths in Ireland to date to 369.

NDSC public health specialist, Dr Mary Cronin said that the figures highlight the continuing need for appropriate prevention and treatment services for all risk groups in Ireland, including migrants and ethnic communities. Furthermore, given the increases in sexually transmitted diseases which facilitate the transmission of HIV infection, people should heed the safe sex message. Anyone engaging in sexual activity should practice safe sex. A properly used condom provides effective protection from HIV and AIDS," said Dr Cronin.

Travellers to USA and Canada urged to be vigilant about West Nile Virus


The National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Monday) urged intending travellers to the USA and Canada to be vigilant about West Nile Virus infection - a normally mild illness, but one that can produce severe infection of the brain - which has recently appeared in North America and usually peaks in late summer.

NDSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Paul McKeown said that while there have been no reported cases of the disease in Ireland or the UK, it is important for travellers to be aware of this small, potential risk and of the appropriate preventative measures.

"West Nile Virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Four out of five people who are bitten will have no symptoms at all, while about 20% will develop a mild flu-like illness, with fever, headache and aches and pains. Less than 1% develop more severe disease which produces headache, high fever, stiff neck, sore eyes, disorientation, muscle weakness, convulsions and coma. 

"The risk of developing severe symptoms increases with age. Over 50s are about ten times more likely than children and young people to develop severe symptoms; the risk for those over 80 is almost 50 times higher. People with weakened immune systems are likely to be more vulnerable to severe disease.

"About 7% of severe cases in the US have died as a result of complications of West Nile Virus. These were mostly in the 50 plus age category. Last year, the US had over 4,000 cases including 284 deaths, while Canada reported almost 400 cases for the same period.

"People should enjoy their holidays in the USA and Canada as normal. The best way to protect yourself against West Nile Virus, is to protect yourself against mosquito bites. Travellers should note that mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus are most active at dawn and dusk. Where possible, people should avoid areas near water where mosquitoes are more likely to be present. Long sleeves, long trousers, socks and closed shoes should be worn and mosquito repellents used. When indoors, screens, nets and air conditioning can reduce the possibility of mosquito bites.

"There is no specific treatment or vaccine for the disease. Mild cases recover quickly with simple symptomatic ('cold and flu') treatment. More severe cases require hospitalisation and specialised supportive treatment."

Joint statement by the Department of Health and Children, National Disease Surveillance Centre and Eastern Regional Health Authority


The Eastern Regional Health Authority's Department of Public Health is today (24 March 2002) investigating a probable case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in a person who has recently returned on a flight from South East Asia and who has shown symptoms similar to those of the disease.

The Western Health Board's Department of Public Health is continuing to investigate a probable case of SARS in a person who has recently returned on a flight from South East Asia and who has shown symptoms similar to those of the disease. The patient is still in hospital but is stable and improving.

The ERHA and the Western Health Board will continue to closely monitor the situation in cooperation with health professionals and the NDSC.

The expert group established by Mr Micheal Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children will continue to advise him of any further measures which may need to be taken as the situation develops.

The symptoms of SARS are a temperature of over 38°C, flu-like symptoms and a cough. This is relevant only to people who have been in the affected areas. The advice to the general public remains as before: people travelling to affected areas in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Guandong Province in China should be aware of the symptoms and seek medical advice should they become unwell during their trip or within 10 days of leaving
the area.

The NDSC, in collaboration with Departments of Public Health throughout the country, continues to conduct surveillance of SARS in Ireland.

Joint statement by the Department of Health and Children, National Disease Surveillance Centre and Western Health Board


In response to advice from the World Health Organisation, Ireland, in common with most countries, has been investigating illness in people who have travelled in areas affected by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The Western Health Board's Department of Public Health is investigating a probable case of SARS in a person who has recently returned on a flight from South East Asia and who has shown symptoms similar to those of the disease.

The WHB will continue to closely monitor the situation in co-operation with health professionals and the NDSC.

The expert group established by Mr Micheal Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children continues to monitor the situation and will advise him of any further measures which may need to be taken as the situation develops.

The NDSC and the Department have developed and disseminated guidance to hospitals and professionals in the health services describing this syndrome and offering advice as to how suspected cases should be dealt with.

The symptoms of SARS are a temperature of over 38°C, flu-like symptoms and a cough. This is relevant only to people who have been in the affected areas. The advice to the general public remains as before: people travelling to affected areas in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Guandong Province in China should be aware of the symptoms and seek medical advice should they become unwell during their trip or within 10 days of leaving the area.

The NDSC, in collaboration with Departments of Public Health throughout the country, continues to conduct surveillance of SARS in Ireland.

Both suspect SARS cases de-notified


The Department of Health and Children, the National Disease Surveillance Centre and the Eastern Regional Heath Authority today (Thursday) announced that both patients under investigation in Dublin for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have been de-notified to the World Health Organisation as suspect cases.

It is now considered that there have been no cases of SARS in Ireland.

The expert group established by Mr Micheal Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children will continue to meet, monitor and advise as necessary.

The symptoms of SARS are a temperature of over 38°C, flu-like symptoms and a cough. This is relevant only to people who have been in the affected areas. The advice to the general public remains as before: people travelling to affected areas in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Guandong Province in China should be aware of the symptoms and seek medical advice should they become unwell during their trip or within 10 days of leaving the area.

The NDSC continues to conduct surveillance of SARS in Ireland.

Joint statement by the Department of Health, National Disease Surveillance Centre and Eastern Regional Health Authority


Ireland, in common with most countries, has been investigating illness in people who have travelled in areas affected by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The patient who was admitted to a Dublin hospital over the weekend is comfortable and is continuing to receive treatment. Preliminary reports have been received that an additional patient has been admitted to another Dublin hospital with some symptoms similar to SARS and is currently undergoing investigation.

Mr Micheal Martin TD, minister for Health and Children, has established an expert group to monitor the situation and to advise him of any further measures which may need to be taken as the situation develops. The group had its first meeting this morning and will continue to meet, monitor and advise as necessary.

The symptoms of SARS are a temperature of over 38°C, flu-like symptoms and a cough. This is relevant only to people who have been in the affected areas. The advice to the general public remains as before: people travelling to affected areas in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Guandong Province in China should be aware of the symptoms and seek medical advice should they become unwell during their trip or within 10 days of leaving the area.

Dublin hospital investigating suspect case of SARS


The Department of Health and Children and the National Disease Surveillance Centre have this evening (18 March 2003) confirmed that a Dublin hospital is investigating a suspect case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 

A person, who recently returned on a flight from South East Asia has shown mild symptoms similar to those of the disease, but is otherwise well and is continuing to receive treatment. 

The ERHA's Department of Public Health is investigating the case, and will continue to closely monitor the situation in co-operation with the hospital and the NDSC. The investigation follows a global alert by the World Health Organisation at the weekend about outbreaks of SARS in East and South East Asia. 

The NDSC and the Department have developed and disseminated guidance to hospitals and professionals in the health services describing this syndrome and offering advice as to how suspected cases should be dealt with. The Minister, Mr Micheal Martin, has established an expert group to monitor the situation and to advise him of any further measures which may need to be taken as the situation develops. The group will have its first meeting tomorrow at 10am.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS):


The National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Monday) issued advice to travellers and health professionals following the identification of 150 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) - a severe form of pneumonia - in South East Asia and Canada.

The areas where outbreaks have occurred include Hong Kong , the Guangdong province of China, Toronto and Vancouver in Canada, Singapore and Hanoi in Vietnam

"There is a slight possibility that people living in, or visiting Ireland, could have been in contact with the disease, while visiting these countries. The Department of Health and Children and the National Disease Surveillance Centre are providing guidance for healthcare professionals to assist them in identifying and managing suspect cases, and in reducing the likelihood of spread of SARS should it appear in Ireland," said NDSC Director, Dr Darina O'Flanagan.

"Travellers who have been to any of the affected areas need not be unduly concerned. At present, it appears that the risk of illness is very low even in the affected areas. However, if you become ill with flu-like symptoms - such as fever, aching muscles, headache, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath - within 10 days of returning from one of the affected areas, you should contact your doctor.

"At the moment, the only treatment is to ensure that the patient has sufficient fluids and to assist breathing if they are having breathing difficulties. Not enough is known about the cause of SARS at present to be more specific about treatment, but this may change as the results of ongoing investigations become available.

"It is likely that it is spread by direct contact with an ill person or by an ill person sneezing or coughing. Up to now, the majority of cases have occurred in people who have had very close contact with other cases such as family members or healthcare workers looking after patients with SARS. It may take between 3 and 10 days to show symptoms of illness after having been exposed.

"There is international concern that this illness has spread quite quickly.It is also worrying that no cause has yet been found for this illness. As a result, clinicians, hospitals and laboratories have been alerted to look for this condition, especially if there has been a history of travel to the areas affected. Early identification of any cases will mean that the possibility of spread is reduced and that medical care can be started as soon as possible. A national group of experts who will advise the Minister of Health and Children on the situation is being established."

Sexually Transmitted Infections up 10%


Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) increased by 10% in the first six months of 2001 when compared with 2000 - with the largest increases in bacterial infections like syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia, according to the latest available figures released by the National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Monday). Commenting on the figures, NDSC Specialist in Public Health Medicine, Dr Mary Cronin, said that while the increases in reported cases reflect unsafe sexual practices, other factors include increased testing for chlamydia, greater public and professional awareness of STIs. "I would urge those who are sexually active to practice safe sex, as most STIs are preventable. Many STIs, like chlamydia, often have no signs or symptoms so if somebody has put them self at risk they should get checked out as soon as possible. Almost all STIs are easily treated and cured if identified, but early diagnosis is important as, in some cases, irreversible complications including infertility and ectopic pregnancies can arise. "Those who have a sexually transmitted infection are also more vulnerable to HIV, and have a higher chance of passing on, or acquiring the disease. "The most commonly reported infections were anogenital warts, non specific urethritis and chlamydia, while the largest increases were detected in syphilis up 1233%, gonorrhoea - up almost 80% - and herpes which saw a rise of 36%." For full reports click here

System needed to identify at risk children in event of measles outbreak in schools and creches. 'Legislation needed to record immunisation status of children'


The Director of the National Disease Surveillance Centre, Dr Darina O'Flanagan today (Wednesday) said that a system must be put in place to ensure that children who have not had MMR jabs can be identified and treated rapidly, in the event of a measles outbreak in a school or creche.

"Low immunisation uptake is putting lives at risk and legislation is needed to record the immunisation status of children.

"There has been 100 cases of measles nationwide in the last 7 weeks alone, where around 30 cases is the norm for this period. Most of these cases have occurred in three areas - south west Dublin, the Midlands and the Western Health Board region - and are directly related to the low uptake of the MMR vaccine.

"To be fully protected children need two doses of the MMR vaccine, one at around fifteen months and a second at 5 to 6 years of age.

"With the continued poor level of uptake of the MMR vaccine, it is time to seriously examine incentives used in other countries to improve uptake. In Australia for example, a certain proportion of child benefit payment is linked to immunisation uptake - with an opt out clause for conscientious objectors."

First two cases of flu virus identified


The National Virus Reference Laboratory has identified the first two cases of influenza virus this winter, with recorded flu activity broadly in line with this time last year.

The cases - one influenza A (H3N2) and one influenza B - were identified by a network of 33 sentinel general practices, who report weekly on the number of patients with flu like illness.

The network was established by the National Disease Surveillance Centre, in partnership with the Irish College of General Practitioners and the National Virus Reference Laboratory, and produces a weekly influenza surveillance report.

Dermot Nolan from the Irish College of General Practitioners said that last year the first positive cases of influenza virus were also detected in January.

"Overall, a total of 65 positive cases of influenza virus were detected during the 2001/2002 season, peaking in February 2002," he said.

The weekly influenza surveillance reports, along with further information on influenza and the flu vaccine are available here.


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