Rise in winter deaths among the elderly as flu takes toll
Published 14/04/2015 | 02:30
The number of deaths among people aged 65 and older rose from early January to mid-March this winter as flu and other illnesses took their toll.
There have been 27 deaths from flu officially reported from the beginning of the winter and the average age of these patients was 81.
There was in increase in "excess all-cause mortality" among older people over a period of eight weeks from early January.
This is estimated by comparing deaths with preceding months including August to November.
The rise in deaths is revealed in the latest flu report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, the country's disease watchdog.
It is still not clear what were the causes of the deaths, but other research acknowledges that the majority of excess winter deaths are caused by respiratory diseases, in particular the flu virus, as well as diseases that affect the cardiovascular system, such as stroke and heart attack.
The flu vaccine, which was available over the winter, provided only partial protection against the main strain of the virus, A(H3), which was circulating in recent months.
The report shows that 16 of the people who died from flu-related illness had this strain. Flu levels are now low and the excess deaths have ended.
The report said that excess deaths among the elderly were also seen in a range of other countries since the beginning of the year, including England, Scotland, Wales, Spain and Switzerland.
Very cold temperatures can cause various physiological effects on the body which can lead to death in vulnerable people.
A colder home temperature can lead to an increase in blood pressure.
The cold can also cause the blood to become thicker, which can lead to blood clots.
It can also lower the immune system's resistance to respiratory infections.
A report by Eurosurveillance said that the A(H3) strain of flu tended to particularly impact the elderly.
This may have contributed to the higher number of winter deaths among the elderly in 14 European countries including Ireland.