International transfer of information on infectious diseases

Reporting infectious diseases to Europe
EU member states are required to report information on specified infectious diseases (a sub-set of our notifiable diseases) to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) (see Decision 2119/98/EC, superseded by Decision 1082/2013/EU). HPSC is the body in Ireland responsible for this reporting. Information routinely provided by HPSC to ECDC does not include personal identifiers. HPSC is also required to report at European level (to ECDC, other Member States and the European Commission) in the event of outbreaks of infectious diseases extending to, or at risk of extending to, other Member States. In general, such reporting does not involve the transfer of personally identifiable information.

Reporting infectious diseases globally
Ireland is also bound by the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005. The purpose of the IHR is to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease. The IHR also require States to strengthen core surveillance and response capacities at the primary, intermediate and national level, as well as at designated international ports, airports and ground crossings. The Irish health authorities are required to report information on certain infectious diseases and events to WHO and to other States where relevant. HPSC has been delegated the responsibility for these communications by the Department of Health. In general, such reporting does not involve the transfer of personally identifiable information.

International transfer of personally identifiable information
However, if international contact tracing is required, personally identifiable data may be transferred confidentially to the relevant public health authority in another country. If a person in one country is identified as having been in contact with an individual(s) in another country who may be a source of an infectious disease, and as a result is potentially in danger of developing or may have developed a communicable disease, then this person may need to be contacted and provided with advice, and other public health measures may need to be taken. This is known as contact tracing and it is carried out in order to protect public health. In this circumstance, information is provided in confidence to the relevant public health authority, so that they may make contact with the individual(s) concerned in the country. This information may include personal information such as name and address, date of birth or age, contact numbers, details of travel, persons with whom they have been in contact.

In such circumstances where there is a requirement for international transfer of personally identifiable information, information is provided confidentially through secure channels to the designated health authority in another country or to a designated international authority such as ECDC or WHO. Data may be transferred by post (sealed envelope or registered post), encrypted email, secure fax, telephone, or within the EU by the European Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) operated by ECDC. EWRS was established under Decision 2000/57/EC (and amended July 2009). The EWRS contact points for Ireland are the Director of HSE-HPSC and the HSE Assistant National Director for Public Health and Child Health, Health and Wellbeing Directorate.

Queries about international transfer of infectious diseases information may be sent to the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre: Tel: 01 8765300.

Further information:
European Early Warning and Response System (EWRS)
Reporting infectious diseases to Europe

Created: 23 July 2015