People in ‘at-risk’ health groups urged to get flu vaccine as deaths reported

HSE says this year’s vaccine is a good match to combat circulating strains

By the end of February last year, reports of flu cases had reached record levels – almost 2,900 people had been hospitalised. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

By the end of February last year, reports of flu cases had reached record levels – almost 2,900 people had been hospitalised. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Health officials have urged people in “at-risk” health groups to get the flu vaccine as reports emerge of up to four deaths from this season’s strain so far.

Flu levels are expected to increase over the coming weeks as it begins to actively circulate in the community.

Those in at-risk groups include people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with chronic illness. Those working in the healthcare arena have also been urged to get vaccinated.

By the end of February last year, reports of flu cases had reached record levels – almost 2,900 people had been hospitalised.

However, the HSE said this year’s flu vaccine is a good match to combat circulating strains.

“Flu is now beginning to circulate, and as schools reopen and people return to work we are likely to see increased levels,” said the HSE’s head of health protection, Dr Kevin Kelleher.

The predominant strain currently circulating is H1N1, which is affecting younger age groups more than strains in previous years. Some people in their 20s and 40s have been admitted to intensive care with severe symptoms.

Between two and four people have already died from the H1N1 strain this season, Dr Kelleher said.

Get worse

While the flu arrived later than usual this year, taking some strain off the health system over Christmas, the situation is likely to get worse in the coming weeks with schools and workplaces returning to normal.

“If you see signs, don’t go out, stay home, don’t transmit the virus,” Dr Kelleher told RTÉ radio.

The vast majority of people affected can stay home in bed and self medicate with analgesics and fluids, he said.

“If they really are ill they will arrange to go to hospital in a way that will not affect others.”

Healthcare workers will be hoping to avoid a repeat of flu season conditions experienced last year.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) – the HSE’s specialist agency for the surveillance of communicable diseases – said flu activity had remained at “sustained high levels” for seven successive weeks toward the end of February.

Flu-related deaths

“Widespread activity” was still being reported at a time when levels are normally expected to drop, it said, noting one of the highest reported levels since surveillance began in 2000.

The GP influenza-like illness consultation rate increased slightly to 65.1 per 100,000 of the population during week seven. By that time, just over 100 flu-related deaths had been recorded.

Last October, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland said the flu vaccine should be made mandatory for doctors, nurses and care staff in high-risk parts of hospitals such as intensive care, cancer wards and emergency departments.