Wednesday 12 December 2018

Fifteen children in intensive care during flu season

More than 1,000 people hospitalised as double virus takes toll

CARE: Flu has hit 23,000 people. Stock picture
CARE: Flu has hit 23,000 people. Stock picture

Mark O'Regan

Fifteen children have been left fighting for their lives, following admission to intensive care, since the start of the winter flu season.

This is more than double the number of under 14-year-olds admitted to intensive care units (ICU) during the last influenza season.

Latest data shows there have been 55 flu-related deaths so far this season.

Most have been patients over 65 years of age.

Fewer than 10 children under the age of 14 are included in this number.

However, the HSE has refused to reveal the exact number of fatalities in this grouping because of "confidentiality" reasons.

This current flu season has seen an unusual occurrence of two different strains of the virus circulating nationwide.

Such a trend has happened only three times in the past 20 years.

The current strains include A(H3N2), or the ''Aussie flu'', and influenza B/Yamagata, or the ''Japanese flu''.

Initially, the Aussie flu was the more prevalent but was later surpassed by the Japanese virus which accounts for around 65pc of cases.

The major issue posed by the Japanese flu is that it's not contained in the current vaccine, which is used to fight two types of A influenza and a different B influenza.

While both the Aussie and Japanese flu affect all groups, the former affects people mostly over the age of 65, while the Japanese flu can also affect children.

According to the HSE's latest weekly surveillance report, influenza remains "widespread and at high levels".

The report also states the number of people requiring hospitalisation continues at "high levels".

It is estimated that up to 23,000 people have battled influenza this winter.

More than 1,000 have been hospitalised with severe symptoms, and approximately 50 have been admitted to intensive care.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, the HSE confirmed 15 children aged under 14 have been admitted to Intensive Care Units (ICU) so far this season. This compares with six children during the 2016/2017 flu season.

It is expected there could be more fatalities and hospitals could become even busier over the coming weeks.

The 2017-2018 season is the fifth worst since records began in 2000.

Around one in every 50 patients has died this season versus the higher one in 20 rate last year.

According to the HSE, older people are much more likely to die as a result of influenza.

Experts at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) have urged high risk groups to get vaccinated if they have not already been immunised.

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 take the vaccine.

Care homes have suffered a large proportion of influenza outbreaks this winter.

Meanwhile, having the flu makes a heart attack six times more likely, new research has found.

Other common infections such as colds and sore throats also greatly increased the risk, the study of 20,000 adults showed. The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reinforced the need for people at risk of a heart attack to have flu jabs.

The Canadian team looked at nearly 20,000 cases of laboratory-confirmed infection from 2009 to 2014.

Of these patients, 332 were hospitalised for heart problems within one year of an influenza diagnosis. The results also showed that for a seven days period after flu was detected, there was a sixfold increase in the chances of a patient suffering a heart attack.

Other kinds of viral respiratory infection tripled the risk for heart attack.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News