Flu virus to linger for five more weeks - as death toll rises to 34
Flu tightened its grip over the past week, causing 400 patients to be hospitalised and bringing the death toll from the illness to 34 this season.
More children and adolescents fell victim to flu following the return to school.
Although the spread of flu is likely to stabilise this week, it is going to be a long season.
Flu will pose a risk for another four or five weeks, HSE public health specialist Dr Kevin Kelleher warned.
This is bad news for patients on waiting lists as hospitals struggling with the trolley crisis have had to put most non-emergency surgery on hold.
It means many A&Es will be gridlocked well into February.
HSE's head of acute hospitals Liam Woods said yesterday that emergency surgeries are going ahead but most waiting-list operations are having to be postponed.
Although some day-case procedures are done, several of the wards used for these patients are also having to be given over to emergencies from A&E.
Around 8,000 patients are normally operated on in hospitals every month.
The fatalities from flu have struck all generations and the median age of victims is 76.
However, there are now signals that the flu is contributing to the death of growing numbers of patients whose main cause of death is another illness.
The country's disease watchdog pointed to the figures indicating "excess deaths".
These are calculated by comparing deaths during the winter time period with preceding months, April to July and August to November.
The biggest casualties in excess deaths tend to be the elderly and other patients who have serious underlying illness.
However, Dr Cillian de Gascun of the National Virus Laboratory in UCD said the number of direct flu deaths so far this year suggests it is not particularly severe.
This is due to factors such as the dominance of the B flu strain, which is not seen as virulent.
There were 21 flu outbreaks last year, with nursing homes particularly hit.
All areas of the country were affected, except for the mid-west and west.
One outbreak was reported in a childcare facility where the illness was passed from one person to another.
Around 72 patients with flu had to be placed in intensive care over a number of recent week.
The worst affected were babies under a year followed by the over-65s.
The HSE said it is still not too late for people in at-risk groups to get the flu vaccine as protection in the coming weeks.