FLU is claiming its first victims of winter – adding yet more misery over the festive season as people struggle to cope with the spread of a virulent stomach bug.
High-risk groups have been urged to get the flu vaccine to reduce their risk of getting very ill amid reports it is spreading.
The flu outbreak comes as hundreds of people are being laid low by the winter vomiting virus, which will be restricting visits to a number of hospitals over Christmas.
A spokesman for the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said for the week ending December 16 the flu rate was 24.9 cases per 100,000 population.
The flu threshold – the point at which an alert is issued – for this season is 21 cases per 100,000 population and, having exceeded that, there is risk of a serious spread.
"Influenza is now circulating in the community, it is important that people in high-risk categories get vaccinated," said centre director Dr Darina O'Flanagan, pictured.
Those most affected by this season's flu are in the five to 14 age group, while it is proving less of a threat to the over-65s so far. However, high-risk groups remain the over-65s, pregnant women and people with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-ups such as lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes.
"Health professionals should use antiviral drugs for the treatment or prevention of influenza in high-risk groups," said Dr O'Flanagan.
"The symptoms of 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.
"Anyone who gets flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms.
"People in high-risk categories should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms," she said.
"Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and washing your hands with soap and water . . . are important measures in helping prevent the spread of flu."