Flu is here - and it's not too late to get the jab
The winter flu has arrived in Ireland as the first patient is admitted to a hospital critical care unit this season suffering complications from the virus.
The amount of flu circulating has still not reached a level to cause concern - but the country's disease watchdog has already been officially notified that five people have been hospitalised due to the illness.
All the strains are covered by the flu vaccine, which is available to provide some protection this winter.
GPs reported eight patients with flu-like illness in the week to November 1, which is around 3.7 per 100,000 population.
The threshold indicating that flu is circulating in the community is when a rate of 18 per 100,000 population is reached.
The number of patients with respiratory illness in hospitals overall has increased as expected at this time of year, said the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
No reports of any deaths from the flu have been made to date, it added.
A flu outbreak would escalate the trolley crisis in the country's hospitals and healthcare staff and people who are vulnerable to the virus are being encouraged to get the vaccine.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: "Each year the HSE prepares for the flu season by procuring seasonal influenza vaccine, which is provided free of charge to all individuals at risk of flu and complications."
The vaccine is recommended for individuals at risk of severe influenza disease - those aged 65 and older, people with long-term medical conditions requiring regular follow-up, pregnant women and the morbidly obese. Workers in certain occupational groups - healthcare workers, as well as people working with poultry, wild fowl and pigs - and those likely to transmit flu to vulnerable groups, are also strongly urged to get the jab.
The vaccine, which protects against at least three strains of flu each season, remains the most effective measure to prevent illness and death from the virus, added Mr Varadkar.
"Up to 40,000 people die prematurely in the EU during an average flu season."
He said last year's flu vaccine was not as effective because it did not fully protect against all of the flu strains that were circulating.
"However, the vaccine still reduced severe illness and hospitalisation for those in the at-risk groups," he added.
"This year's flu vaccine is expected to be 40-90pc effective."
The vaccine is available free of charge from GPs for all people in at- risk groups, and from pharmacists for people in at-risk groups who are aged 18 and over.
GPs and pharmacists can apply a charge to people who do not hold medical cards or GP visit cards.
"For the 2015-2016 flu season all healthcare workers should obtain the flu vaccine," said Mr Varadkar.
The symptoms of flu usually develop over a matter of hours and include a temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat. Flu is different from the common cold, which tends to come on more gradually and usually includes a runny nose and a normal temperature.