Dáil Éireann - Volume 512 - 01 December, 1999

Written Answers. - Hepatitis C Incidence.

175. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children if his Department is examining the Rotunda Hospital's annual report which states that there has been a marked increase in the number of infants at risk of hepatitis C being born at the hospital. [25601/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): The Rotunda Hospital 1998 annual report identifies an increase in the number of pregnant women with the hepatitis C virus, HCV, presenting to the hospital since 1994, with a marked increase for the period 1997 to 1998. This coincides with a heightened awareness by the hospital of the increasing prevalence of hepatitis C amongst pregnant women.

Women with identified risk factors for HCV or a history of jaundice are screened selectively at the Rotunda Hospital. The report indicates that a total of 128 infants at risk of HCV were born to 122 mothers in the Rotunda Hospital from 1994 to 1998. The Rotunda Hospital accounts for 64% of all such referrals in the Dublin area, 85% of whom acquired HCV through IV drug use. The health promotion unit in my Department implements a wide range of initiatives aimed at creating a greater awareness of the problems of drug misuse and preventing young people from turning to drug misuse in the first instance. It has worked closely with the Department of Education and Science on the development and dissemination of a substance abuse prevention programme in schools.

In line with other European countries, Ireland is experiencing an increase in the numbers of hepatitis C infected women. The full impact of this on child health has not been determined. Further collaborative studies are ongoing to assess factors contributing to vertical transmission of hepatitis C and evaluate the role of interventions to its prevention. I can assure the Deputy that my Department is closely monitoring and evaluating all such developments in this area.