Flu death toll rises to 148 as hospitals feel strain
The death toll from flu this winter rose to 148 as the country recovers from the recent Arctic blast that left many vulnerable people at risk.
Figures show 12 more deaths from flu were notified last week, with hospitals seeing a surge in patients.
Flu-related admissions climbed to 249, compared to 185 the previous week when the snow storm left people housebound.
The spread of flu has also increased slightly - but it is still at moderate levels, according to the latest report.
It is unclear if the restrictions on movement that forced more people indoors and at close quarters contributed to more of the flu being passed on.
The figures highlight that the excess deaths among the elderly this winter are likely to be significant.
Excess mortality among the over 65s has been recorded for the first five weeks of the year.
This is likely to lead to a public health review to learn lessons for next winter, including choosing a more effective flu vaccine for older age groups.
As the country faces another icy blast this weekend, the advice is that people over 65 should spend most of their time in a warm environment.
Cold has various physiological effects on the body that may lead to death in vulnerable people.
Research linked to a colder home temperature is associated with increased blood pressure.
Other research found that cold causes the blood to become thicker, which could lead to blood clots.
The cold also lowers immune resistance to respiratory infections.
Flu remains at its most intense in the east and mid-west regions and is lightest in the west of the country.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has ruled out extending the payment of the fuel allowance.
The fuel allowance is a payment of €22.50 per week for 27 weeks from October to April.
In a response to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, she said: "In Budget 2018, I increased the duration of the fuel allowance season by one week to 27 weeks.
"This is clearly longer than the winter period in Ireland, and provides assistance during what are largely colder weeks, when heating costs are expected to be at their highest.
"The current fuel allowance season will, therefore, run to the first week in April."
The doubling of the €22.50 weekly payment to cover the additional heating bills needed during the snow means people should have received an allowance of €45 this week.
Meanwhile, hospital overcrowding remained high yesterday with 511 patients waiting on trolleys for a bed.
Cork University Hospital had 51 patients on trolleys and there was also serious overcrowding in St Luke's Hospital Kilkenny and University Hospital Limerick. There are still widespread surgery cancellations.