Press Release

Department of Health convened the first meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team on CPE today

The National Public Health Emergency Team on Carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE) held their first meeting today, 02 November 2017.  The National Public Health Emergency Team was convened as a result of the activation of the Public Health Emergency Plan, on 25 October 2017, by the Minister for Health Simon Harris, TD, as a public health response to CPE in Ireland.

The Chief Medical Officer and Chair of the group (Dr Tony Holohan) outlined that “The meeting today was about establishing the structures and working arrangements for the National Public Health Emergency Team on CPE.  The team will provide advice, guidance, support and direction on the surveillance and management of CPE at national level; the development and implementation of a strategy to contain CPE and provide oversight”.

Membership of the team will include key stakeholders from the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive (HSE) management with responsibility for public health, surveillance, operations and quality assurance and patient representatives.  They will meet on a weekly basis and continually evaluate the readiness of the health service to manage and sustain the containment of CPE as part of ordinary operations with a view to standing down the National Public Health Emergency Team at the appropriate time.

The National Public Health Emergency Team will direct and ensure an effective communications system at local, regional and national levels. Regular updates including summary minutes of meetings will be provided via a dedicated webpage, hosted on the Department of Health website.

Notes to the Editor

What is CPE?

Carbapenemase Producing Enterobacteriaceae CPE (also referred to as carbapenem resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)) is a superbug resistant to most or all antibiotics. It is carried in the bowel and can cause blood stream infection in people who are vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with low immunity.

CPE are gram-negative bacteria that are carried in the gut and are resistant to most, and sometimes all, available antibiotics.  CPE are an established threat to human health, particularly in hospital settings. They are shed in the faeces and transmitted by direct and indirect contact. A period of 4 weeks or more may elapse between that contact that results in acquisition of the organism and the time at which CPE becomes detectable in the faeces of the contact. More than half of all patients who develop blood stream infections with CPE die as a result of their infection.

CPE has been identified throughout the world in recent years.  Ireland has seen an increase in the number of cases year on year.  The number of cases almost doubled in 2016 and is estimated to increase by a further third in 2017.  The spread of this superbug in hospitals can lead to the closure of beds, wards and units removing thereby, essential capacity to provide services, to admit patients from Emergency Departments and to address waiting lists effectively.

Public Health and microbiological advice indicates that the opportunity remains for effective interventions to be taken which can protect our patients, protect our hospital capacity from unplanned closures and ultimately lead to a halting or reduction in the spread of this superbug.

What is a public health emergency? 

A public health emergency is described as any serious or unexpected event, due to an infectious disease, which causes, or threatens to cause, death or serious illness to large sections of the population, an individual region or a specific cohort of individuals and which will have a major impact on the normal functioning of the health system and on society in general.

What is the Public Health Emergency Plan?

The Department of Health’s National Health Emergency Plan is a plan for activation in the event of a national/large-scale public health emergency in the event of an infectious disease outbreak or similar health issue. The purpose of the plan is to assist all health agencies in the State to respond to a public health emergency in an integrated and co-ordinated manner.