Worst of flu season over but still circulating in community – HSE

Flu cases still well above median levels; vulnerable groups advised to take get flu vaccine

The worst of the flu season is over though the virus is still circulating in the community, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Flu cases have peaked for this winter, with the number of notifications of influenza-like illnesses down last week to 70 per cent per 100,000 of population, from 94 per cent the week before.

However, flu levels are still well above median levels and vulnerable groups are being advised to take precautions, including getting the flu vaccine.

The highest rates of flu were recorded among 15-65 year-olds and among the over-65s, public health specialist Dr Joan O’Donnell told a media briefing.


The volume of flu-related calls to GP out-of-hours services is also down, from 7.7 per cent of all calls to 4.8 per cent, she said.

There were 290 hospitalisations for flu last week, bringing the season’s total to 835. The majority are patients aged 65 years and older.

Thirty patients were referred for critical care and so far there have been 29 deaths reported. About 90 per cent of these again are among over-65s.

"The flu is still here, it hasn't gone away," said Dr Kevin Kelleher, HSE assistant national director of public health, who said it was important that people who have not yet got the vaccine did so now.

This year has seen a big increase in the number of people getting the flu vaccine at this time, he said. However coverage was still only at 13-15 per cent of the population. To properly control the flu, 50 per cent coverage would be needed.

He pointed out that the UK, which has far higher vaccinations rates than the Republic, has experienced much lower rates of flu this winter.

This year’s flu vaccine is a good match for the predominant influenza A(H3N2) strain circulating this winter, according to Dr Cillian DeGascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.