DUBLIN hospitals are struggling to provide isolation wards for rising numbers of tuberculosis patients, it has emerged.
The HSE confirmed that it was dealing with "a number of TB cases" in the Dublin area.
Sources warned that the city was struggling to deal with the outbreak as isolation wards remained at full capacity.
"They're struggling for isolation wards for TB in Dublin at the moment so it is quite prevalent out there," the insider said.
The HSE is now trying to find out where the latest outbreak originated.
"Public health doctors are currently carrying out contact tracing investigations, in accordance with 2010 national TB guidelines," it added.
The revelation came as four inmates at Cloverhill Prison in Dublin were hospitalised after contracting the potentially fatal disease.
Three of the individuals were taken to St James's Hospital, while the fourth was brought to the Mater. A prison source told the Herald that he was informed by health care staff that the illness is "quite prevalent" in the capital.
The number of TB cases hit a high in 2008, with 480 instances being notified to the HSE that year. In 2009, the figure had dropped to 472, though it was still far higher than the 395 notified cases in 2000.
There have been several warnings in recent years that Ireland is on the brink of a TB epidemic.
Dr Margaret Hannan, a microbiologist, said in 2007 that the disease was turning up in unexpected places.
Her research found clusters in north Dublin among middle-aged men in their 40s who frequented the same pubs.
There were also clusters associated with one of the large ferries sailing from Dublin and in a school on the northside, and in two Cork creches.
And in the last week, a screening programme got under way at a large secondary school after a student was diagnosed with TB.
The teenage pupil at the Loreto Convent secondary school in Letterkenny, tested positive after presenting with symptoms of the disease.
Dr Anthony Breslin, specialist in public health medicine described the screening programme as routine, in keeping with best international and national practice.
"We will screen close contacts of the pupil which will include the members of the pupil's class.
"It is difficult for people of a young age to pass on the infection to others but we have to do it as a matter of routine. We have to be safe," he firstname.lastname@example.org