Flu vaccination urged as influenza-related deaths confirmed

HSE issues advice to the public and gives an update on influenza incidence

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Flu vaccination

Protect yourself this winter by getting the flu vaccine

People in high-risk groups are urged to get vaccinated against flu with the news that six people have died from the virus.

The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), Ireland's specialist agency for the surveillance of communicable disease, issued the advice following a jump in the number of people with flu-like symptoms.

A total of 151 confirmed influenza hospitalised cases notified to HPSC during week 1 of 2019, bringing the season total to 282. Of these, 29 cases were admitted to critical care units. 

Six deaths in influenza cases have notified to HPSC during the 2018/2019 season to date.

There number of cases presenting to GP surgeries also jumped in the first week of 2019.

Influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 is the predominant influenza virus circulating in the community, with influenza A(H3N2) and influenza B also circulating to a much lesser degree.

The HSE's surveillance centre said influenza is expected to increase over the coming weeks and to circulate for at least the next six to eight weeks. Influenza increased in all age groups in the first week of 2019.

"The influenza vaccine is available free of charge from GPs for all people in at-risk groups, and from pharmacists for everyone in at-risk groups aged 18 years and over. An administration charge may apply to people who don’t hold medical cards or GP visit cards," said the HSPC.

At-risk groups for the vaccine are:

- All those aged 65 years and older
- People including children with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-up 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 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 at-risk groups.

The HSPC says vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses and can reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalisation and death. The vaccine takes two weeks to take effect once received.

Anyone who gets flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms. Advice, tips, information and videos on getting over flu and other common illnesses are available at a new HSE website, www.undertheweather.ie.

Anyone in one of the high-risk categories should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms. GPs may wish to prescribe antivirals for those presenting with influenza in the high risk groups. The HSE asks that if you need to visit your GP or the Emergency Department, please phone first to explain that you might have flu.

Covering your cough and sneeze can stop the spread of germs that make people sick.

DO use a tissue and place it immediately in the bin. Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer
DO cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve. Germs won’t spread through your clothing
DON’T cough or sneeze into your hands. You’ll end up spreading germs to everything you touch.
Posters and social media resources for respiratory hygiene are available to download from the HPSC website.

The HSE says GP consultation rates give an indication of the overall community levels of influenza activity in Ireland and are reported by selected GPs as part of a surveillance system jointly run by the Irish College of General Practitioners, the National Virus Reference Laboratory and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.