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HSE Winter Flu Update

Each winter the HSE sees an increase in the number of people suffering with flu, commonly known as the flu season. Generally, the flu season starts in January. However, this year the season commenced earlier in mid-December with the dominant circulating virus influenza A (H3N2) which in the main affects those aged 65 years and older.

To date this season, there have been 270 hospitalised flu cases, with 15 cases admitted to Intensive Care Units (ICUs). There have been 36 ILI/influenza outbreaks (32 in Residential Care Facilities and four in acute hospitals) which have been reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). Weekly influenza surveillance reports are available on www.hpsc.ie.

Speaking at a media briefing today in Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, Dr. Kevin Kelleher, Director of Public Health said, “We are now seeing a major rise in people attending GPs and GP out of hours services with influenza like illnesses (ILI).  The best protection for people from the flu virus is the flu vaccine, yet every year many people in at risk groups fail to get vaccinated and so put themselves at risk of serious illness or even death. The vaccine reduces infection and associated illnesses and hospitalisation.  Flu is very infectious and can cause potentially serious illnesses especially for older people, those who have a chronic illness, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women. Seasonal flu vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy and also protects the baby. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu as it does not contain any live flu virus and all those at risk who have not been vaccinated should get the vaccine as soon as possible to make sure that they are protected.”

 Continuing Dr. Kelleher said, “It is expected that influenza activity will peak in the next 1-2 weeks and that increased influenza activity will continue for the next 4-5 weeks. Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, therapists and carers also need to get the seasonal flu vaccine every year. It is important that all those working in frontline healthcare protect themselves and to prevent flu from spreading to vulnerable patients. Older and at risk patients may not get sufficient protection from the vaccine themselves so people who care for them need to be vaccinated. The flu vaccine is available free to healthcare workers from their local Occupational Health department.”

The seasonal flu vaccine is available from your GP or pharmacist. Young people under 18 must attend their GP for vaccination.  Most people who get the flu are able to self medicate and be looked after at home, with rest and plenty of fluids.  If the symptoms persist or there is a significant deterioration in symptoms they should contact their GP (or Out of hours Service) by phone to get advice rather than attending the GP surgery.

The following groups of at-risk people should be vaccinated against seasonal influenza:

  • Everyone aged 65 years and over
  • Anyone over six months of age with a long term illness requiring regular medical follow up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes or those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment
  • Pregnant women
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long stay facilities
  • Healthcare workers

It is important for all those in the at risk groups to be vaccinated again this year as the virus strains in the vaccine have changed since last year. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three common flu virus strains expected to be circulating this year based on advice from the World Health Organization.

The HSE’s dedicated flu website - www.hse.ie/flu  - provides details on the annual flu vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccine, along with answers to any questions people may have about flu.  Information leaflets are available to download. Information leaflets are also available in GP surgeries, pharmacists and HSE Local Health Offices. 

The HSE website www.undertheweather.ie gives a range of practical advice on how to mind yourself or your family if you feel the onset of flu-like symptoms.

Last updated on: 06 / 01 / 2017