Medics back probe into rare disease outbreak

A call for an investigation into a possible cluster of a very rare and sometimes life-threatening disease which has affected four people in the Duleek area, has been made by a group of doctors.

The Irish Doctors Environmental Association along with the Louth Meath Health Protection Group have raised concerns after four individuals in the Meath town contracted Guillain-Barré Syndrome in recent times.

The condition normally affects one person in 80,000 to 100,000 or roughly two per county, but four cases have been confirmed in the Duleek area.
It is understood the patients are three adult men and one very young boy. One of the men is believed to have ended up on life support as a result of the condition, which affects the peripheral nervous system. He had to learn to walk again but is now recovering.
Dr Patrick O’Sullivan, the Assitant Director of Public Health, HSE North East confirmed on Monday that he is available to meet with representatives of the group who have raised their concerns about cases of Guillain- Barré Syndrome in Duleek.
The Louth Meath Health Protection Group had called on the HSE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out an investigation.
Meanwhile, the Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association (IDEA) has joined the calls on the HSE to undertake an investigation into the incidence of Guillain-Barré in the Duleek area and if a cluster is confirmed,  to investigate the possibility that an environmental contaminant in the area may have had a role in the development of this cluster.
Pat O’Brien of the Louth Meath Health Protection Group said there has been four confirmed cases of the disease in what is a small village.
“One of the patients ended up on life support for a period and then had to attend the National Rehabilitation Centre to learn to walk and move again,” he said.
“It is a very serious condition, but it is very rare.
“We want to the HSE and EPA to carry out a study to see what might be causing it.
Senator Thomas Byrne said that if members of the medical profession are joining calls for a local investigation in the Duleek area, that needs to be taken very seriously indeed.
 “I will be making contact with the Association to ascertain their views on the best way to proceed.  It is too early to say anything else” concluded Senator Byrne.
A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed that the Assistant Director of Public Health was available to meet with representatives of the group who have raised their concerns about cases of Guillain Barré syndrome in Duleek.
She said Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare but serious condition of the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves that control the body’s senses and movements. In Guillain-Barré syndrome, the immune system (the body’s natural defence against infection and illness) attacks these nerves, causing them to become inflamed. Guillain-Barré syndrome affects 50-100 people in Ireland each year. It is slightly more common in men than women. It can affect people of any age, including children.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is not a notifiable disease.
A spokesperson for the EPA said that in the event of public concern about human health, the responsibility for an initial enquiry and any follow-up study deemed necessary, was a matter for the HSE. 
“Where the initial assessment by the HSE of a human health problem has concluded that a detailed investigation is needed and that, additionally, there is a possibility that an environmental pollutant is involved, the local authority and/or the EPA, as appropriate, may be requested to participate as part of the general investigation.  In relation to human health, the HSE has developed national databases on health events that can be consulted,” she said.