THIS winter's record flu outbreak has now claimed six lives -- including one person who was previously healthy.
Four more people died from flu complications last week while the numbers hospitalised rose by 222, public health specialists revealed last night.
However, the numbers falling ill with flu dropped compared to the previous week.
One of those who died was an infant who was being treated in hospital in the North while three of the deaths have been among the over-65s.
Dr Darina O'Flanagan of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre confirmed 49 people are still in intensive care and around a quarter of these had no pre-existing disease.
Around 7,700 people were diagnosed with flu-like illness last week -- down from over 9,000 in early January.
However, doctors warned it is too early to say the peak of the outbreak has been reached and levels are likely to remain high for the coming weeks.
The rate of flu was at 173 per 100,000 last week, down from 200.8 per 100,000 in the first week of January which was the highest ever recorded.
Rates of flu rose significantly among young children and teenagers as schools re-opened. Swine flu accounts for the majority of cases but influenza B is also a threat.
HSE head of health protection Dr Kevin Kelleher said it was important people in at-risk groups avail of the flu vaccine and that the general population not let its guard down because although rates are falling there is a lot of virus circulating.
He also predicted the number of reported deaths will rise and hospitalisations increase.
GPs are getting fresh batches of flu vaccine before Monday.
The deaths have been recorded in the east, north west, north-east and south-east. Two of the deceased were women.
Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive had a surplus of €4m at the end of November although hospitals were still running at an €86m deficit.
Spending on medical cards and drugs schemes was €50m less than budgeted and this was largely because those qualifying for the benefit are younger and not taking medicines.
It is unclear if the HSE will report a surplus in its final year accounts. It is obliged to be within budget at year end.
The latest HSE performance report said 2,003 staff availed of voluntary redundancy or early retirement.
Another 25 women are on maternity leave and have the option of taking up the offer. Some 641 availed of early retirement and 1,362 took voluntary redundancy.
The report said that as of January 11 there were 150 junior doctor posts which had been unfilled as medics had not responded to job ads.
The report also revealed :
- A list of approved companies providing homecare services, which meet minimum standards, will be completed next month.
- The percentage of children in care allocated a social worker has increased to 92.6pc.
- The number with medical cards has risen to 1.6m.