Friday 23 August 2019

Flu is on the rise and 'actively circulating' - experts warn

Flu jab
Flu jab

Eilish O’Regan

Flu cases are on the rise and at-risk groups are urged to get vaccinated.

The alert was issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) the country’s disease watchdog.

It comes as the trolley crisis has seen over 500 patients in crowded emergency departments in recent days.

HPSC Specialist in Public Health Medicine, Dr Paul McKeown said today: ”During  the week  ending December 11 the general practitioner consultation rate for influenza-like illness (ILI) in Ireland increased to 25.8 per 100,000 population from an updated rate of 15.5 per 100,000 during the previous week.”

Flu rates are above the baseline threshold a level which means that flu is actively circulating in the community, he added.

“Influenza-like illness increased in all age groups. Hospitalised cases of influenza and influenza associated outbreaks in residential care facilities have also increased.

“Prevention is better than cure, and the increase in flu activity means it is even more important to get your flu jab if you are in an at-risk group."

High-risk groups are:

  • All those aged 65 years and older;
  • People including children with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, chronic neurological disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders and diabetes;
  • Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment;
  • All pregnant women. The vaccine can be given safely at any stage of pregnancy;
  • Those with morbid obesity i.e. Body Mass Index;
  • Residents of nursing homes, old people's homes and other long stay facilities;
  • Health care workers and carer’s of those in risk groups.

“People in ‘at risk’ groups can get the vaccine for free as they are at much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch flu, and sadly many end up in hospital.

“Most people, unless they are in at risk group, can get better themselves at home.  Advice, tips, information and videos on getting over flu and other common illnesses are available at a new HSE website, www.undertheweather.ie.   The site was developed by the HSE along with GPs and pharmacists and is a great resource for people to get advice and get better.

"The symptoms of influenza usually develop over a matter of a few hours and include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat. This is different from the common cold, which tends to come on more gradually and usually includes a runny nose and a normal temperature.

“Anyone who gets flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms. Anyone in one of the high-risk groups should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms.

"Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible, and cleaning your hands as soon as you can are important measures in helping prevent the spread of influenza and other germs and reducing the risk of transmission,” added Dr. McKeown.

ILI rates give an indication of the overall community levels of influenza activity in Ireland and are reported by selected GPs as part of a surveillance system jointly run by the Irish College of General Practitioners, the National Virus Reference Laboratory and the HPSC.

Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses.

The weekly influenza surveillance reports and further information on influenza and flu vaccine are available on the HPSC website.

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