Health

Friday 22 August 2014

Eight die from flu in one month as outbreak spreads

Low rates of immunisation among staff is jeopardising the health of patients
Low rates of immunisation among hospital staff is jeopardising the health of patients

Three elderly people have died and five children are in intensive care after a major spread of flu in the past week.

The country is now in the grip of a major flu outbreak, which is posing a particular risk to the over 65s.

Eight flu deaths have so far been confirmed since the middle of January and the spread of the virus is continuing to increase.

Swine flu is one of the dominant strains circulating since the beginning of winter and has been been responsible for three of the deaths.

The national threshold for flu spread in Ireland is 21 cases per 100,000 but it is now at double that level, new figures reveal.

The seasonal flu jab protects against all the strains, including the swine flu, which pose a danger this winter and at-risk groups are still advised to get the vaccine.

The flu has so far claimed the life of one toddler, an older patient and six pensioners after nursing homes were hit by a number of outbreaks last week.

Complications from the virus led to 34 people being hospitalised with flu last week across the country, and 31 have had to be transferred to intensive care this winter, 18 of whom had swine flu, according to the disease watchdog, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Five children under the age of five required intensive-care treatment.

Swine flu first emerged in 2009 and caused worldwide panic because of the lack of a vaccine. However, disease experts pointed out yesterday it is now just like any other flu virus and there has been a vaccine available for some years. Many people are now resistant to it.

Cork University Hospital has already confirmed a number of cases of swine flu in patients in recent days and is imposing strict visitor restrictions, with just one named visitor allowed per patient a day. No children are allowed.

RESTRICTIONS

Other hospitals imposing similar restrictions are Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Kerry General and Limerick maternity hospital.

The Cork hospital is confining the patients with flu to one ward in a bid to halt its spread.

Before a vaccine to protect against swine flu was manufactured there were a small number of cases that resulted in serious illness and death, but they were mostly in people with pre-existing health conditions, such as cancer.

People usually become infected by picking up the virus on their hands from contaminated objects and then placing their hands near their mouth or nose. It is also possible to breathe in the virus if it is suspended in airborne droplets.

Pregnant women are at greater risk from swine flu because their immune system is suppressed during pregnancy. It means that pregnant women are more likely to catch flu and, if they do, they are at greater risk of developing complications.

However, during pregnancy, the immune system still functions and the risk of complications is very small.

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.

Anyone who gets flu should 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 categories should contact their GP if they develop flu symptoms.

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon as you can are important measures in helping prevent the spread of germs and reducing the risk of transmission.

Irish Independent

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