Ailbhe Jordan | 29 Apr 2010 Medical Independent Ireland
A Galway GP is calling for Lyme disease to be added to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s (HPSC) list of notifiable illnesses.
Condition endemic in the West of Ireland
Dr John McCormack, who practices in Rosmuc, spoke out following the publication in February (2010) of a study by neurologists at University College Hospital Galway, which found that the Republic of Ireland has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in Europe and suggested that the condition was “endemic,” in the West of Ireland.
According to the research, Portumna in Galway has the highest seroprevalence in the country of 8.7 per cent, compared to a national average of 3.4 per cent.
The report was prompted by research Dr McCormack carried out in Connemara in 2006 after discovering that GPs were dealing with a cluster of at least 19 cases in the area.
His survey, which was published in the ICGP journal Forum in May 2008, challenged the preconception that the disease was “a rare illness that someone brings home, having travelled to North America”.
Of 19 patients who were suffering from the disease – which in Ireland is commonly transmitted through deer ticks – only two contracted it abroad; one in the US and one in Prague.
“Smallpox is still a notifiable disease, so too is anthrax, which is irrelevant apart from when terrorists send powder in white envelopes, but Lyme disease, which is genuinely with us and on the up-and-up, is not,” Dr McCormack told the Medical Independent.
67% of acute Lyme suffers were living in the West of Ireland
The UCHG report found that of 42 patients with serological evidence of acute Lyme disease, 67 per cent were living in the West of Ireland, while recent travel outside Ireland was documented in just seven cases.
Consultant Neurologist Dr Timothy Counihan, senior author of the report, said awareness and diagnosis of Lyme disease was poor amongst Irish medical practitioners.
While the disease is usually treatable by common antibiotics such as amoxicillin, the report found that Lyme disease can lead to “significant neurological complications,” especially if it is left untreated.
“The disease is under recognised,” Dr Counihan told the MI.
“It is treatable but easy to miss and if not treated, can be very serious. And there is a lack of awareness about it except in niche areas like dermatology and neurology.”
The report acknowledged that the true figure was likely to be higher due to the lack of available data
Latest figures available from the HPSC show that in 2007, 71 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Irish hospital laboratories, indicating a crude incidence rate of 1.67 per 100,000. However the report acknowledged that the true figure was likely to be higher due to the lack of available data.
As the summer season approaches, when most cases of the disease are diagnosed, Dr McCormack said more up-to-date data are needed.
“We just have no proper figures or data on it,” he said.
“There is a trailer-load of Lyme disease out there – it may not be spotted or is being spotted late and that has significant consequences.”
Minister for Health Ms Mary Harney said last September there were no plans to make Lyme disease notifiable, in correspondence with the patient advocacy group Tick Talk.
(Tick Talk note – a letter has been submitted to the current Minister for Health Dr James Reilly & is awaiting further reply on whether Lyme will be made notifiable in the foreseeable future. We will update you as we learn more!)
** Update April 2011:
Tick Talk Ireland submitted a letter of inquiry to the new Minister of Health, Dr James Reilly, regarding making Lyme a notifiable illness in the new government. Please find below his reply:
4th April 2011:
The Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly, T.D., has asked me to thank you
for your recent letter concerning the notifiable status of Lyme Disease.
The Minister has asked me to inform you that as part of a review of
Infectious Diseases Regulations being undertaken in the Department, it is
proposed that Lyme Disease will be included as a notifiable infectious
disease under proposed new legislation.
This is excellent news as A. Lyme is a serious threat to the health of members of the public, their pets & their children as well as to forestry & outdoor works & B. more sufficient monitoring can take place of cases across Ireland showing truer numbers reported by GP’s rather than numbers reported by labs.