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HSE warns of increase in flu and COVID expected in the coming weeks

  • Increasing levels of community transmission leads to jump in number of flu and COVID hospitalisations
  • Protect yourself and others - Vaccination and good infection and prevention control measures remain key in reducing transmission

The HSE is seeing an increase in people with respiratory illnesses attending emergency departments - 538 people with flu and 282 with COVID attended our EDs this week, an increase from 312 (flu) and 144 (COVID) the previous week.  While our system is responding well, this increasing pressure requires all to play their part in using the right options for care. 

Increasing community infection rates will lead to increased risk of outbreaks in hospitals, nursing homes and residential care facilities, potentially affecting the most vulnerable people.  There are currently 30 outbreaks of COVID in hospitals and 24 in nursing homes, again an increase from last week.

Our acute hospitals are as prepared as can be to deal with the expected rise in attendances and admissions over the coming period.  Today (Thursday, December 28th), there are 119 people on trolleys (87 in ED and 32 on a ward) compared to 443 on the same date last year.  A further 124 patients are occupying surge beds compared to 375 on the same date last year. Meanwhile, yesterday there were 357 people in hospital ready for discharge and awaiting suitable non-acute care, compared to 475 people on the same date last year.

Hospitals and community services around the country have put a sustained effort into ensuring hospitals are positioned for the traditional post-Christmas demand. However the rise in flu and COVID infection is very steep, and we would urge the public to attend the ED only for major health emergencies.  Use all other options in non-emergency situations.

People should consider using services such as your local pharmacy, and, before going to your GP or Emergency Department if you have respiratory symptoms. It is still not too late to get vaccinated: people who have not done so should get vaccinated at their GP or pharmacy.  If you are unwell you should stay home until 48 hours after your major symptoms have resolved; avoid visiting people who are more vulnerable if you are unwell, especially avoid visiting hospitals or nursing homes if unwell. And we remind people about good infection control practice, including washing hands regularly and covering nose and mouth if you have coughs and sneezes.

According to Dr Colm Henry, HSE Chief Clinical Officer, “Rates of COVID and flu are rising now and over next few weeks, which will put significant pressure on hospitals and Residential Care Facilities in the short term.  Our Emergency Departments are expected to encounter significant pressures as a result and we know from experience that a delayed peak in flu season such as we are seeing now, will inevitably lead to further pressures throughout the healthcare system with heightened risk of outbreaks in all facilities and delays discharging patients to nursing homes or step down facilities if they have flu or COVID.

“This increase in viruses circulating obliges anyone with respiratory symptoms to avoid visiting hospitals and nursing homes if we have respiratory symptoms. Every healthcare setting is assessing the risks locally and monitoring their own local risks, and this may lead them to take additional measures in certain settings, such as the wearing of masks if deemed necessary. Such measures will help protect those who may be more vulnerable to the effects of these infections and avoid impact on services at a very busy time of year. There is no room for complacency and I urge people to follow public health advice - stay at home if you have symptoms and get vaccinated - before we reach the peak of flu season in the very near future.”

Vaccination remains the best way to reduce the incidence or these respiratory illnesses. The HSE is urging every eligible person to get vaccinated against flu and COVID as soon as possible.  People with long-term health conditions, healthcare workers (HCWs) and children aged 2-17 can avail of free vaccination.  See for more information on COVID and flu vaccination and to find where to get your vaccines.

Dr Éamonn O’Moore, Director of National Health Protection, “We are now seeing a sustained rise in the levels of infection with both COVID-19 and seasonal flu, including among people attending emergency departments and being admitted to hospitals. The new JN.1 variant of COVID is fast becoming the dominant strain. This variant may be more transmissible than previous variants, resulting in more infections. We are still collating data in Ireland and internationally on whether it will result in more illness requiring hospital care but at this time we are not seeing that signal. However, with more infection around, there is greater risk some people who are vulnerable could become ill and require hospital care and we still need to protect our vulnerable members of society, children and adults, by doing what we can to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses.”

See the HSE website for useful advice on common illnesses such as colds, coughs, flu, earache and sore throats and information on how to keep well in winter.

Last updated on: 29 / 12 / 2023