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Thursday, 29th April 2021

HSE warning over gastrointestinal infections effecting children

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The HSE's Director of Public Health in the North East region, Dr Augustine Pereira. 

There have been more cases of two gastrointestinal infections this year in the North East of the country than this time last year and the majority of those effected are children under 10 years of age.

That’s according to the HSE North East where the Health Protection Team is advising people to take extra care when in contact with farm animals.

The infections -  cryptosporidiosis and VTEC (E. coli) infections - have increased in recent weeks and the HSE said, ‘Parents and caregivers of children attending crèches and primary schools are advised to monitor their children to see if they develop the symptoms of diarrhoea, particularly if you notice any blood in stools, as then they should seek prompt medical attention with their General Practitioner (GP) or GP out of hours service.’ 

To date in 2021, there have been 33 cases of cryptosporidiosis and 20 cases of VTEC infections in the North East region, with a minority of these being hospitalised. 

In comparison for all of 2020, there were 24 cases of cryptosporidiosis and 79 cases of VTEC reported in the region which incorporates counties Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. 

Dr Keith Ian Quintyne, Specialist in Public Health Medicine with the Department of Public Health, HSE North East, said, “Investigations have not identified any clusters or outbreaks, but it has highlighted that the majority of cases in children have had interaction with farm animals. I would like to remind parents and caregivers of the importance of practicing good hand hygiene after touching or handling animals.” 

Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrhoeal disease caused by a microscopic parasite (Cryptosporidium). The parasite lives in the intestine and passes in the stool. It is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods and makes it very resistant to chlorine based disinfectants. It can survive temperatures greater than 70°C.

While the other infection VTEC usually causes a mild illness that most people recover completely from, it produces a toxin that may damage the bowel wall causing severe bloody diarrhoea. In about 5 – 8% of cases, the infection causes a life-threatening complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). 

HUS is more likely to occur in children under 5 years old and the elderly. 

Dr Augustine Pereira, Director of Public Health in the North East, said, “As we’ve all come to realise during COVID-19, clean hands saves lives. This is true for many infectious diseases.”

“The risk of gastrointestinal infections can be dramatically reduced through hand washing. It is essential to wash your hands using soap and water after touching or handling animals and children do not put their hands near their mouth after petting animals. By being aware and cleaning our hands we can help to avoid illness and enjoy the outdoors,” he added. 

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