Flu season on the way with upsurge in cases, HSE warns

Main strain circulating so far is H3N2 swine flu, which particularly affects the elderly

Dr Kevin Kelleher, Asst. National Director of Public Health and Child Health, speaking at a media briefing on the  seasonal flu update and winter plan.Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Dr Kevin Kelleher, Asst. National Director of Public Health and Child Health, speaking at a media briefing on the seasonal flu update and winter plan.Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

This winter’s flu season is on the way, with an upsurge in cases over the past week, the Health Service Executive has warned.

Thirty cases have already been reported, 19 people have been hospitalised and one person has had to treated in intensive care as a result of the virus so far this winter, officials said.

With the number of cases reported by GPs and the proportion of flu-related calls to out-of-hours doctors both up over the past week, the official flu season is expected to begin in two to three weeks’ time, according to HSE assistant national director Dr Kevin Kelleher.

The main strain circulating so far is H3N2 swine flu, which particularly affects the elderly, Dr Kelleher said. This year’s flu vaccine provides protection against this and other strains, and it is not too late for vulnerable groups to get it, he stressed.

Dr Kelleher expressed concern that cases of RSV (or respiratory syncytial virus), which particularly affects the young, have also begun to circulate.

He highlighted the need for people to protect themselves through immunisation, proper respiratory etiquette and measures to prevent infected children mixing with elderly relatives.

The number of patients on hospital trolleys was 29 per cent higher in the past week than it was at the same time last year, HSE officials advised during an update on its winter plan on Thursday.

A shortage of home help staff, particularly in rural areas, is contributing to delays in discharging clinically well, older patients from hospitals, they said. Despite the provision of additional funding, the number of delayed discharged of transfer patients grew by 25 over the past week, in part because people cannot return home because their care arrangements have not been finalised.

Overall, however the number of delayed transfer of care patients has declined from 776 in August to 676, due to the provision of extra nursing home, transitional care and home help funding.

The Irish Patients’ Association, responding to continuing high trolley counts in hospitals as winter set in, said it was “praying” for a mild winter and low flu rates so that the safety hazards of overcrowding can be minimised.