Flu season on track to be worse than last year

HSE says there has been ‘significant increase’ in admissions to emergency departments

The Irish Pharmacy Union has urged people in at-risk groups to get vaccinated for the flu.

The Irish Pharmacy Union has urged people in at-risk groups to get vaccinated for the flu.

 

There has been a “significant increase” in the number of people attending emergency departments with flu this season when compared with last year, which was the worst in a decade, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has said.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, HSE assistant national director for public and child health, said there had been six deaths from flu so far this season, as well as 31 admissions to intensive care units and 151 hospital admissions, mainly among children and those aged over 65.

“[Flu is] affecting the 50-64 age group the most at the moment,” he said. “I would fully expect that to change in the coming weeks as the schools go back when it will start to affect children more as a consequence.”

Dr Kelleher said there were 60-120 deaths each year from flu in the State but some 300-450 others died from it indirectly due to conditions it brings on such as pneumonia and heart disease. There were 222 direct deaths from flu last season, as well as more than 600 who died indirectly, he added.

Joe Ryan, HSE director of national services, said there had been a 13.5 per cent increase in the number of attendances at emergency departments this week when compared with the same week last year.

“We’re admitting more people too. We’ve had 12 per cent more admissions in the last week,” he said. “Despite an increased admission rate, we’ve managed to keep the trolley count below where it was this time last year, which means the system is coping better with increased activity. We’re still very busy and we’re really only entering the flu season.”

Vaccination

Separately, the Irish Pharmacy Union has urged people in at-risk groups to get vaccinated. Those in at-risk groups include people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with chronic illness. It said healthcare workers should also get the vaccine to protect themselves and those for whom they care.

“The flu is a highly infectious and potentially a very serious illness,” said pharmacist Ann Marie Horan. “In recent years, January has been the peak month for flu cases including hospitalisations and unfortunately fatalities as well.

“While some people may feel that it is too late in the flu season to avail of the vaccine, that is certainly not the case. The flu season in the Northern hemisphere typically runs until April, with January and February the most virulent time.”