The Department of Public Health in the Mid-West is handling an E.coli outbreak at a childcare facility and is reminding the public of the danger this bacteria can pose.
Verotoxigenic E.coli (VTec) is a powerful strain of E.coli bacterium that lives in the gut of healthy cattle and sheep and can cause serious illness in the elderly and in children aged under five.
The Mid-West public health department said the outbreak was under control but the incidence highlights the importance of hand hygiene and proper water treatment.
VTec can be a source of food poisoning and can cause bowel inflammation leading to bloody diarrhoea and severe stomach cramps.
While some people may experience no symptoms, severe diarrhoea from VTec can last as long as nine days.
Public Health Mid-West said a hospital laboratory can confirm the presence of VTec if a person provides a stool sample to their doctor.
The most common ways to be infected with VTec are through contact with farm animals, pet and open farms, untreated water from private wells, person-to-person contact in creches or households where there are children under five years of age, and through food and drinks that are contaminated with tiny amounts of faecal matter.
A specialist in public health said Ireland had one of the highest incidence rates of VTec in Europe and that the Mid-West region has one of the highest reported rates in the country.
"Ireland has one of the highest incidence rates of VTec in Europe, and the Mid-West has one of highest incidence rates in Ireland. While VTec can last in the system for as short as a week, it can sometimes take several months to clear the infection.
"Anyone who is infected, or is a close contact of a case requires clearance from a public health doctor to attend healthcare, childcare or work that involves food-handling," said Dr Rose Fitzgerald from Public Health Mid-West.
Dr Fitzgerald emphasised the danger posed by VTec and appealed to the public to access local council grants for domestic wells to ensure their water supply is clean.
“It’s a serious disease that can cause serious life-changing illness in young children and the elderly.
"We encourage everyone in Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary to avail of their respective council’s domestic well grant schemes to ensure that your private water supply is clean. This financial assistance could prevent serious illness and save a life,” she added.
Incidence of VTec tends to be higher in warmer weather, particularly over the summer time, though the annual case number is likely to be lower in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the Mid-West, there were 128 cases in 2018; 130 in 2019; and 117 in 2020.
Public Health Mid-West said recovery from VTec is usually not complicated and can be treated by drinking plenty of fluids. Treatment with antibiotics may increase the risk of Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS).
VTec poses a risk as it can cause HUS in 5%-10% of cases. HUS leads to the destruction of red blood cells and kidney failure, with some patients requiring intensive dialysis treatment.
Five per cent of people who develop this dangerous, life-threatening condition may die.
The Department of Public Health Mid-West said an isolated outbreak like this does not interfere with their work battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Mid-West region including Limerick has seen persistent outbreaks of Covid-19 since the third lockdown began.