Saturday 14 December 2019

Flu to blame for many deaths among elderly last winter

Flu jab. Photo: PA
Flu jab. Photo: PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The number of "excess" deaths among people over 65 was among the highest in years last winter as 726 elderly died of flu and other complications.

It is likely that flu "contributed significantly" to these excess deaths, said Dr Darian O'Flanagan, director of the disease watchdog, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

"Adverse winter weather conditions and other respiratory infections may also have contributed," she revealed in the agency's annual report.

Excess deaths are calculated by comparing deaths during the winter time period with preceding months, April to July and August to November.

Last winter saw the highest rate of hospitalisations of over-65s with the flu since this figure has been recorded.

Part of the reason for the higher deaths is likely to be the ineffective flu jab available last winter which did not protect against all strains of the virus circulating.

The jab was developed before the virus mutated. This year's vaccine matches the viruses that are circulating. The spread of flu means more admissions of seriously ill patients to hospital and higher risks of the infection being passed on in crowded emergency departments.

A survey by the agency found that the average seasonal vaccine uptake rate among medical card holders and GP visit card holders aged 65 years of age and older was about 60pc.

Flu vaccine uptake rates among medical card holders and GP visit card holders show age group variation with those aged 75 years and older having the highest uptake and those aged 65-74 years the lowest rate.

Low vaccine uptake in the 65-69 year age group needs to be addressed, the watchdog warned.

"Initiatives need to be developed to promote influenza vaccination uptake among risk groups including those aged 65 years and older as recommended by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)."

More than 1,000 confirmed cases of patients with flu were hospitalised last winter, a similar number to the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

There was a significant increase in the overall hospitalisation rate for those aged 65 and older compared with previous seasons.

Most people with flu do not get tested for the virus so the true numbers with the illness is not known.

There were a large number of outbreaks in nursing homes and other residential facilities.

The spread of flu usually increases around Christmas and the New Year because of the fact that more people are confined indoors for longer.

There is also more virus circulating because people are travelling more and making trips to Ireland from other countries.

Irish Independent

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