Up to 1,000 Irish people could die from flu-related illness if there is a particularly severe outbreak here.
New research carried out by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has estimated that over the last eight flu seasons, between 200 and 500 people in Ireland died each year from flu-related illness.
However, it warned that up to 1,000 people could die in a particularly severe flu season.
The figures were unveiled as the HSE launched its annual seasonal flu vaccination campaign.
The new vaccine protects against the three common flu virus strains that are expected to be circulating this year, based on advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Those in at-risk groups are being advised to get vaccinated again this year, as the virus strains in the vaccine have changed since last year.
Dr Brenda Corcoran, of the HSE’s national immunisation office said the new research “starkly highlights that flu |can be a very serious and sometimes deadly illness, especially for people who are older, or who have a long-term illness.
“The flu vaccine is the best defence against flu, yet every year many people in the at-risk groups fail to get vaccinated and so put themselves at serious risk of serious illness, or even death,” she said.
She added that the vaccine reduces infection and associated illnesses and hospitalisation.
The national uptake figures for the flu vaccine show that around 57pc of people aged 65 and over who hold a medical card or GP visit card received the flu vaccine during the most recent 2012 to 2013 season.
The uptake rate falls short of the WHO’s stated target of 75pc.
Dr Corcoran said: “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.”
She said the symptoms of flu usually develop over a matter of a few hours and include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat.
The illness is spread by coughing and sneezing. \[J.Deasy\]that the\[J.Deasy\]This year, Ireland in conjunction with its European partners, conducted a study of the past eight influenza seasons to determine the excess mortality due to influenza and other factors, such as extreme temperature.
Preliminary results have found excess mortality due to influenza to be in the range of 200 to 500 during most seasons in Ireland, and as high as 1,000 during a particularly severe season.
The study is an ongoing one.