Healthy children were among the 222 killed by flu in winter season
Virus can 'overwhelm a person who has never been sick before'
A number of healthy children who had no underlying illnesses died from flu over the winter months, it was revealed yesterday.
The tragic toll taken by the flu on children who were not deemed at risk shows how dangerous the virus can be when it strikes.
The HSE confirmed that healthy children were killed by the flu, but said it could not be specific about the numbers for confidentiality reasons.
A spokeswoman said "fewer than five" healthy children had succumbed to the flu.
The main strain of flu, influenza B, which was circulating for much of the winter, poses a particular hazard for children.
The children were among 222 people of all ages who lost their lives to the flu, although most of them were elderly and with lowered immune systems due to existing illnesses.
Dr Sam McConkey, a consultant in infectious diseases at Beaumont Hospital, said: "Some people get a really mild flu but others get the worst end of it and it is quite bad."
Even a healthy person can see their lungs fill up with fluid and are unable to bring up enough oxygen, thereby suffering respiratory failure.
"With a lot of intensive care you can help people through that. It is a question of getting access to good care quickly," Dr McConkey said.
"Sometimes it can overwhelm a healthy person who has never been sick before.
"Back in 2009, during the H1N1 pandemic, a lot of people were on ventilators. They got respiratory failure due to flu."
The deaths of healthy children from flu over the winter were also highlighted by Dr Karina Butler, a specialist in infectious disease at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin, during her recent address on the importance of vaccines at the Royal College of Physicians.
Dr McConkey said the HSE did not include healthy children in its annual list of people who were routinely recommended to get the flu vaccine.
However, they are included in recommendations by health authorities in the United States.
He said it was an area for the national immunisation advisory committee, which makes recommendations to the Department of Health on which vaccines should be examined.
Suggesting healthy children be vaccinated would have to be weighed up against a number of factors, he added.
The most up-to-date figures show that, after a particularly long flu season, the virus is now at very low levels.
Over the winter, 4,860 patients were hospitalised with flu, 2,244 of whom were over the age of 65. Over 1,000 were children under 15.
There were 188 patients admitted to intensive care units due to flu and, of these, 83 were over the age of 65. Another 102 were aged under 15.
Each year, decisions are made by various health authorities in spring to produce influenza vaccines for the following winter season.
Last year's flu vaccination effectiveness was reported to be just 36pc effective, although it varied for the different strains.
Protection in flu vaccines is generally higher against influenza A(H1N1) and B viruses, than against A(H3N2) viruses.
Although vaccines cannot give absolute protection, the advice is that it is better to have some defence against the virus than none.
Vaccination may also lessen the level of illness that a person suffers.
Read more: Flu season is the 'worst on record' - HSE