FOUR pregnant women who contracted the flu had to be admitted to intensive care last winter, highlighting the need for vaccinations for mothers-to-be.
The flu vaccine is now advised for pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy, according to the newly published 2012 annual report by the disease watchdog the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC).
HSPC director Dr Darina O'Flanagan said last winter's flu season was unusual in that the normal seasonal epidemic lasted for 14 consecutive weeks, one of the longest seasons on record.
Most outbreaks occurred in healthcare facilities and residential institutions.
"As the vaccine is less effective in the very elderly, it is important that those with whom the elderly have contact receive the vaccine.
"At the other end of the age spectrum, the under-one-year-olds were the age group who were most often hospitalised with influenza and had the highest rate of admission to intensive care."
Latest reports for this winter indicate that the level of flu circulating is at a low level although sporadic cases have been recorded.
Commenting on trends in other infectious diseases in 2012, Dr O'Flanagan said the number of measles cases reported continued to decline, apart from a large outbreak in teenagers in west Cork.
Nine in 10 of the cases in this outbreak were unvaccinated as many came from families opposed to vaccination, she added.
She said there had been "an unwelcome increase" in whooping cough cases.
Newborn infants are most at risk and the highest incidence in 2012 was in children aged under six months.
"This unfortunately resulted in the deaths of two young infants under the age of three months. In August 2012, an additional pertussis booster was recommended for health care workers and pregnant women."
There was a large increase in the number of cases of cryptosporidium diarrhoeal illness, the second highest rate of countries reporting on the disease in the European Union.
"Possible contributing factors include the prolonged rainfall in the summer of 2012 as this illness is often associated with the contamination of drinking water by livestock effluent.
"Another animal-associated infection which is a serious problem in Ireland continues to be verotoxigenic E coli. The number of reported cases almost doubled in 2012.
"This may have been due to improved detection methods in the laboratory but was also likely to have been influenced by the high rainfall in 2012."
Although the overall trend in newly diagnosed HIV cases has been stable in recent years, the proportion of gay men with the virus is increasing.
"The proportion of those diagnosed late varies by risk group and was highest among heterosexual males. Strategies to improve uptake of testing need to be strengthened to enable earlier detection."
And the number of cases of the sex disease gonorrhoea notified in 2012 was the highest ever recorded in Ireland.