Number attending GPs with flu-like illnesses highest since 2010
Hospitals to be under increased pressure for at least another four weeks, say officials
In week four of the current flu season, ending last Sunday, there were 318 cases of people being hospitalised. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Increased flu rates are to place additional pressure on the hospital system for at least the next four weeks, officials have said.
Health Service Executive (HSE) figures show the number of people attending GPs with flu-like illnesses is at its highest level since 2010, the year after the H1N1 virus outbreak.
So far this season, 55 people have died from influenza, the clear majority of whom were over 65, many with underlying illnesses.
“Flu is circulating but with many other respiratory viruses as well. So the people consulting their GPs, it’s for influenza-like illness. There is a lot of that about,” the HSE’s Dr John Cuddihy, director of public health southeast, said at a briefing on Thursday.
The flu season which has proved particularly severe this year and in late 2017 is expected to run for a further seven weeks.
“February, from what we can see at this stage and what we know about the trend in flu, there will be pressure on the hospital system for the next three or four weeks directly relating to flu and flu-like illness,” said Liam Woods, the HSE’s national director for acute services.
In week four of the current season, ending last Sunday, there were 318 cases of people being hospitalised. This rate has been declining however, from 409 in week three and almost 500 in the first week.
In total, 1,785 people have been hospitalised over the season. Two-thirds of flu victims have contracted the Influenza B strain, as opposed to one-third with the A strain.
Addressing whether this was an issue of the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, Dr Cillian De Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory said it was always difficult to predict which virus would dominate any given year.
“All of the seasonal influenza viruses are circulating to some extent or another. Really which one takes over probably depends on the underlying level of immunity in the community,” he said.
“We have a lot of B this season and it’s probably because we haven’t seen a lot of B for a number of years so there is a susceptible population there that is ready to be infected if you like. And because we had such a big Influenza A H3 season last year . . . there is probably a level of immunity there.”
The highest rate of hospitalisation cases were over 65 years of age, followed by those under one year. Of the total, 92 cases were admitted to critical care.
Hospital attendance rates, which are closely related to flu cases, were up by 10 per cent on week four of last year’s season and by 5.8 per cent on week three, this year. Emergency department attendances have “significantly increased” on last year.