A strain of influenza that hit over 100,000 people in Australia, is sweeping through Ireland, with the HSE confirming that "less than 10 people" have died directly related to the flu in the past fortnight.
Dr Kevin Kelleher is Director of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
“Influenza-like illness has increased in all age groups except in those aged 0-4 years. Hospitalised cases of influenza and influenza-associated outbreaks in residential care facilities have also increased. The HSE has in the last fortnight also been notified of a small number of deaths directly related to influenza (less than 10).’
He is urging high-risk groups to get the flu vaccine, which is "a moderate to good match" against the Aussie flu.
‘These indicators tell us that flu is actively starting to circulate in the community, yet it’s not too late for people at risk to get the vaccine from their GP or Pharmacist. Prevention is better than cure, and the increase in flu activity means it is even more important to get your flu jab if you are in an at-risk group. Initial indications so far point to more people in at-risk groups and more healthcare workers getting the flu vaccine this year. The HSE would urge those who have not yet been vaccinated to join their peers and their colleagues in getting the flu vaccine.’
The vaccine takes two weeks to become effective.
All those aged 65 years and older
People including children with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-ups such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, chronic neurological disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders and diabetes
Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment and all cancer patients
All pregnant women. The vaccine can be given safely at any stage of pregnancy
Those with morbid obesity i.e. Body Mass Index ≥ 40
Residents of nursing homes, old people's homes and other long stay facilities
Health care workers and carers of those in risk groups
People in ‘at-risk’ groups can get the flu vaccine itself free of charge (people without medical or GP visit cards may be charged an administration fee). This is because they are at much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch flu, and may need specific treatment or hospital care.
Symptoms of flu
Influenza usually develop over a matter of a few hours and include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat. This is different from the common cold, which tends to come on more gradually and usually includes a runny nose and a normal temperature.
How to care for flu
Dr Kelleher said he is concerned that hospitals could be overburdened with flu patients.
"I am concerned that any significant increase in cases could pose a serious threat to our already overburdened hospital system. In the majority of cases, this flu, while serious, can be treated at home. However there will always be more severe cases, which will need acute medical intervention," he has stated today.
Anyone who gets flu is advised to stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms.
Anyone in one of the high-risk groups should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms. If you need to visit your GP or the Emergency Department, please phone first to explain that you might have flu.