Speech by NDSC Director, Dr Darina O'Flanagan at the launch of the NDSC 2003 Annual Report


I'd like to thank the Tanaiste for coming along this morning to launch our Annual Report for 2003.

This is our fifth report and builds on work covered in previous years. It is a comprehensive source of information for anyone with an interest in infectious disease in Ireland.

2003 was a difficult year for the surveillance and control of infectious diseases. It was the year that SARS emerged and its rapid transmission around the world served as a global warning to improve public health infrastructure and hospital infection control systems.

In just five months - between March and July 2003 - we saw over 8,000 probable cases of SARS in about 30 different countries. Sadly 900 people died from the disease in the same period. We were fortunate here in Ireland - none of the 50 cases we investigated was confirmed as being caused by the SARS virus.

2003 wasn't just about SARS. Endemic diseases continued to cause problems. E. coli O157 remains a serious concern with 86 confirmed cases in 2003. One in eight children under 15 years of age with confirmed VTEC 0157 will develop haemolytic uraemic syndrome, a form of renal failure. 

Members of households, which are not on the main public water supplies, are over represented among VTEC cases and the potential for waterborne outbreaks of VTEC and cryptosporidiosis is a cause for concern.

Norovirus is in the news again. And ongoing surveillance of disease outbreaks highlighted the huge burden caused by the emergence of a variant strain. It was responsible for over 154 outbreaks of gastroenteritis in 2002. 

Over 5000 people were ill in the hospital sector alone due to this pathogen. As a result a subcommittee of the NDSC Scientific Advisory Committee was formed and guidelines on the management of Norovirus in hospital setting were published and launched by the then Minister for Health, Micheal Martin - in December 2003.

Sexually transmitted infections continued to rise and notified numbers in 2002 were the highest for any year on record. 

An early start to the 2003 influenza season resulted in a higher incidence rate of influenza in young children. NDSC monitored the situation closely in collaboration with general practitioners, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, hospital clinicians and public health departments. We worked closely with the Department of Health and Children to further develop contingency plans on pandemic influenza and other major threats.

Data on anti-microbial consumption patterns in Ireland has been added to the report this year to inform the policies of the SARI committee, who are implementing the Strategy to control Antimicrobial Resistance in Ireland. The proportion of MRSA isolates in Ireland remains one of the highest in the countries reporting to the EARSS surveillance scheme.

On a positive note, annual immunisation rates for all vaccines improved in 2003. Uptake rates reached 92-94% in three health boards. The challenge now is to reduce the regional disparity and to continue the upward trend. Other advances include the successful piloting of Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting System during 2004 and the changes in the Infectious Disease Legislation at the end of 2003 which specified a number of important pathogens and which introduced reporting from microbiologists.

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.

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