2011 Press Releases

At risk groups urged to get flu jab as first cases of winter influenza identified

The HSE–Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) today (Thursday) urged people in at risk groups to get vaccinated against influenza following the identification of the first cases of Influenza A virus this winter.

The National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) has identified two cases which were detected by a network of 60 sentinel general practices who report weekly on the number of patients with influenza-like illness. The network was established by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, in partnership with the Irish College of General Practitioners and the NVRL in 2000.

Commenting on the cases HPSC Director, Dr Darina O’Flanagan, said that while influenza activity in Ireland is low at present, people in at risk groups need to get vaccinated.

"The vaccine is available free of charge from GPs for all people in at risk groups, and from pharmacists for everyone aged 65 and over. An administration charge may apply to people who don't hold medical cards or GP visit cards.

"Those at risk include:

"The 2010/2011 influenza season peaked in early January 2011 and over 2,000 cases of influenza were confirmed by the NVRL.

"Based on advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), this year's seasonal influenza vaccine protects against three common influenza virus strains - the H1N1 (swine flu) strain which is still circulating, influenza A (H3) and influenza B.

"People who were vaccinated last year still need to get their flu jab this year as immunity from the vaccine lasts twelve months and wanes over time.

"Flu is different from the common cold. Flu usually develops quickly over a matter of hours and symptoms include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat. The common cold tends to come on gradually and symptoms usually include a runny nose and a normal temperature. Anyone in the at-risk categories who develops influenza symptoms should contact their GP."

The weekly influenza surveillance reports along with further information on influenza and flu vaccine are available at www.hpsc.ie

People who take part in outdoor pursuits must protect against Lyme disease

The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre today, Wednesday, 27th April 2011, urged people who take part in outdoor pursuits to protect themselves against Lyme disease, which is spread by tick bites. Lyme disease can, in a minority of cases, cause severe debilitating heart and nervous system disease.

As people are more likely to engage in out door pursuits in the summer months, ramblers, campers, mountain bikers, and others who work and walk in forested or grassy areas must be vigilant against tick bites, says HPSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Paul McKeown.

"Ticks are tiny insect like creatures that feed on the blood of mammals and birds and will also feed on humans.  Ticks are more numerous and more active in the summer months and protecting against tick bites protects against Lyme disease.

"Tick bites can be prevented by:
• Wearing long trousers, long sleeved shirt and shoes
• Using an insect repellent
• Checking skin, hair and warm skin folds (especially the neck and scalp of children) for ticks, after a day out
• Removing any ticks and consulting with a GP if symptoms develop

"Only a minority of ticks carry infection. If a tick is removed within a few hours, the risk of infection is low. The entire tick, including any mouthparts which might break off, should be removed with a tweezers by gripping it close to the skin. The skin where the tick was found should then be washed with soap and water and the area checked over the next few weeks for swelling or redness. Anyone who develops a rash or other symptoms should visit their GP and explain that they have been bitten by a tick.

"Although the true incidence of Lyme disease is not known it is likely that there are at least 50 -100 cases in Ireland every year," added Dr McKeown.

Further important information to protect against Lyme disease is available at http://www.hpsc.ie/hpsc/A-Z/Vectorborne/LymeDisease/

HPSC Warns of the Dangers of Reptiles to Children

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is today warning parents that reptiles are not appropriate pets for children under the age of five. This comes after the identification of a case of infant botulism following exposure to a turtle or turtle feed combined with the fact that a significant proportion of cases of salmonella are associated with contact with reptiles.

Dr Paul McKeown, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, of the HPSC said, "Recently, there has been one case of botulism, a small baby, associated with pet turtles. On top of that, in 2008, a year when we had 449 cases of salmonellosis, fifteen of these cases had recent contact with reptiles. Very worryingly, nine of these fifteen cases were in children under one year of age. This tells us that these diseases are appearing too commonly in households that have pet reptiles and too commonly in infants and babies."

Small children are not the only group at increased risk of illness from reptiles; pregnant women, elderly or frail adults or immunosuppressed people (e.g. people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and people with a CD4 count less than 200 should avoid all contact with reptiles. 

"Given these risks", said Dr McKeown, "reptiles should not be kept as pets in a house where there are children under the age of five."

He went on to say, "For most people keeping reptiles does not pose a significant health risk, as long as proper hygiene steps are taken. These include proper handling of reptiles and disposal of waste and water, frequent handwashing following contact with reptiles and keeping your reptiles in their tank."

"Enjoy your pet reptiles but keep children under five away from them entirely and take the proper hygiene steps to make sure they don’t make any of your family ill," said Dr McKeown. 

Further information is available on HPSC's website at http://www.hpsc.ie/hpsc/A-Z/Zoonotic/ReptilesandRisksofInfectiousDiseases/

Issued by:
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