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Written Answers. - Biological Threats.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 291. Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh  asked the Minister for Health and Children Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin  further to Parliamentary Question No. 153 of 21 November 2002, the specific measures being taken here in relation to bio-preparedness; and the cost of these measures to the Exchequer. [24615/02]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In the wake of the events of 11 September 2001 in the USA, I established an expert committee under the chairmanship of Professor Bill Hall, director of the Virus Reference Laboratory, to develop a contingency plan which would be implemented in the unlikely event of a biological attack in this country. In preparing the plan it was necessary for the committee to identify the level of risk of such an attack. The committee considered that the secondary consequences of an attack in another country was the most likely threat.

On 17 October 2001, I launched a protocol for dealing with a suspected anthrax attack in Ireland. The protocol was prepared by the expert [1091] committee and deals with the procedures to be adopted in the event of a suspected anthrax attack, including patient treatment and management, post-exposure guidelines, etc. Included with the protocol are guidelines for individuals and companies on how to deal with a suspect package believed to contain anthrax. The document is available on my Department's web site at

A detailed protocol in relation to category A agents, including smallpox, botulism, plague and tularaemia, entitled “Biological Threats – A Health Response for Ireland”, was issued in May 2002 to all health board chief executive officers and directors of public health for circulation to all relevant personnel. The chief executive officers were requested to ensure that each board's emergency plan incorporates the appropriate measures and procedures in relation to biological threats. It was agreed by the expert committee that a sub-group was required to examine operational issues arising from “Biological Threats – A Health Response for Ireland”. This subgroup has had two meetings to date and is expected to report shortly.

The National Disease Surveillance Centre issued a report entitled “Biological Threat Agents.” This report was aimed at informing all medical staff, particularly general practitioners, in order to assist in the diagnosis of anthrax, plague, botulism and smallpox. The report was agreed by the expert committee and was circulated in May 2002.

Based on the recommendations of the expert committee, I approved the purchase of specific antibiotics and vaccines which would be required in the event of a biological attack with specific class A agents. The following quantities were secured: five million doses of Ciprofloxacin (oral) and 16,000 doses of Ciprofloxacin (i/v) for the treatment of anthrax; 600,000 doses of smallpox vaccine for use in the event of a confirmed case of the disease; and 20 vials of Cidofovir (anti-viral) for treatment of smallpox.

These products will complement the existing stocks of medical products for the treatment of these diseases. There is a considerable quantity of antibiotics and other therapeutic substances already available in hospitals which could be used against a range of biological agents in the event of an attack. In addition, protective clothing for use in the event of an attack as well as specific equipment for use by the VRL have been secured. A sum of approximately €11 million was provided to meet the costs of these and other related measures.

In the event of a biological threat occurring the expert committee will provide advice on the management of the situation, including the issue of vaccine use, based on the specific circumstances prevailing at the time.

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