Elderly and young children worst hit as flu cases double
Complications from virus biggest worry especially among elderly with existing health problems
The number of flu cases reported in the first week of this year was almost double that of the same period last year and it is the over-65s and children who face the greatest risk of contracting the virus.
A report on infectious diseases by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows that flu cases accounted for more than half of the infectious illnesses since the beginning of January.
It shows the over-65s face a greater risk of contracting flu compared to other adults.
People in this demographic accounted for 46pc of the 853 influenza cases reported between New Year's Eve and January 6. Women have also been more susceptible to the flu so far this year, representing 475 cases. Men have accounted for 378 reported flu infections.
The figures are drastically up on the same period last year. During the first week of 2017, there were 471 reported flu cases.
This year's figure represents an 81pc increase. It represents 56pc of all infectious diseases presented in the State.
It comes as one GP warned the spread of the virus is complicated by patients refusing the flu vaccine or presenting at clinics unnecessarily.
The Dublin-based GP told the Sunday Independent: "The key message is prevention. It is not necessarily influenza but rather the complications of it that render susceptible people very ill especially people with chronic conditions like COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and asthma.
"They will have exacerbations of their existing symptoms that will require at the very least close monitoring and re-attendances at GP for repeat courses of antibiotics, steroids and nebulisers, and at worst hospitalisation."
She said waiting rooms are regularly clogged up with patients who do not need to be there.
"I had so many eligible patients refusing the flu vaccine based on misinformation and lack of insight into what 'real flu' is. The problem for many GPs is that our waiting rooms are heaving every day of the year with patients who don't necessarily need to be there.
"They are the 'worried well', the not always sick under six-year-olds taken to the surgery as a precaution," she added.
A H3N2 strain, commonly known as 'Aussie Flu', has swept the country along with an influenza B strain. Experts at the HPSC have warned they expected these to circulate for at least another four weeks as general outbreaks tend to last for between six and eight weeks.
They have warned high-risk groups to get vaccinated if they have not already been immunised during the current flu season. They have specifically appealed for people aged 65 and older, children with chronic illnesses, those with lower immunity, pregnant women and those with morbid obesity to ensure they are vaccinated.
They have also called on residents in nursing homes and health care professionals to receive the vaccine.
HPSC figures show the numbers of those contacting the illness increases steadily among older demographics. People in the 35-to-44-year-old bracket accounted for 75 reported flu cases. This rises steadily to 84 cases found in 45-to-54-year-olds and 89 cases in 55-to-64-year-olds.
There were 57 children under the age of four years old with flu in the first week of the year.