AS MANY as 1,000 people could die if the winter flu season is particularly severe, a disease watchdog has warned.
The warning came as the Health Service Executive (HSE) launched its flu vaccination campaign, urging at-risk groups to get the jab.
A study by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre found between 200 and 500 people in Ireland die annually from flu-related illness – but this could rise to 1,000 if the outbreak is particularly virulent.
Figures show that only 56.9pc of the over-65s who have a medical card or GP visit card got the flu jab last winter, although the target is 75pc.
Dr Brenda Corcoran of the HSE said: "The flu vaccine is the best defence against flu, yet every year many people in the at-risk groups fail to get vaccinated.
"The vaccine reduces infection and associated illnesses and hospitalisation. Flu is very infectious and can cause potentially serious illnesses, especially for older people, those who have a chronic illness, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.
"Seasonal flu vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy and also protects the baby. All those at risk should get vaccinated as soon as possible."
The symptoms of flu usually develop over a few hours and include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat.
The vaccine and consultation are free for those with a medical card or GP visit card. Those deemed at risk get the vaccine free but have to pay a consultation fee to a GP or pharmacist. The rest of the patients can also go to their GP or pharmacist.
The cost of the vaccine varies per pharmacy and can range from around €15 to €20.
At-risk groups include everyone aged over 65 years, or anyone over six months of age with a long-term illness. Those at risk also include pregnant women, and any person at lower immunity due to disease or treatment.