Holidaymakers warned of food poisoning risks


People thinking for holidaying abroad this year were today warned of the dangers of catching food poisoning.

The National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) said that almost one fifth of people struck down with salmonella had caught the illness while on foreign trips.

Dr Paul McKeown said: "There are more unusual sub-types of Salmonella being found and they are associated with people going on holidays. At least 20 per cent or 15 per cent are acquired overseas but the numbers are probably higher."

The numbers catching the illness had been decreasing since 1998 but the reports rose again last year with 449 people struck down. Dr McKeown said the numbers reported were not high since widespread action was taken in the 1990s.

Around 15 per cent or 72 of the Salmonella cases reported last year were associated with travel abroad - including trips to Spain, Portugal, Thailand, Pakistan, India and the UK. Dr McKeown said there were still outbreaks throughout Europe, several of which were recently attributed to lettuce through cross-contamination from uncooked meat.

The salmonella bacteria causes headaches, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea and occasionally vomiting. Figures from the NDSC showed there were 88 outbreaks of infectious intestinal diseases affecting over 1,400 people up to the end of September last, but the majority of these were caused by the Winter Vomiting Bug.

The most common bacterial cause of gastroenteritis in Ireland - Camplyobactor - was also on the rise. In 2003, there were 1,568 reported cases of the illness, which causes diarrhoea, an increase on the previous two years.

The NDSC also warned that the potentially lethal E coli (VTEC) 0157 bug was now causing a serious global health concern. There were 86 confirmed cases of the infection in Ireland in 2003, the highest number reported since records began.

"About 10 per cent of those who developed the VTEC bug can develop renal syndrome, it is particularly worrying in children. It is an emerging bacteria, it wasn't known 30 years ago," Dr McKeown said.

The NDSC said that it only took 10 of the VTEC bugs to make someone ill, whereas it took thousands to cause Salmonella illness. Dr McKeown said it was important to act quickly to curb an outbreak as the impact on public health and costs can be huge.

Some of the control measures to prevent the gastro-enteritis poisoning include not eating raw eggs, poultry or meat and avoiding cross-contamination of uncooked and cooked foods.

But Mr McKeown stressed the best method was frequent hand-washing with warm water and soap. "In actual fact hand-washing has been recognised for hundreds of years and 150 years ago there was scientific proof of its benefits, yet we still have to remind people to wash their hands," he said.