Sunday 26 January 2020

'Stay home unless it's an emergency,' says Health Minister as flu surges

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Allison Bray

Health Minister Simon Harris is urging people with suspected flu symptoms to avoid going to their GP's surgery or attending hospital unless absolutely necessary.

He made the plea as the latest figures from the HSE reveal that half of the 187 patients on trolleys in A&E wards yesterday morning are suffering from the flu, which has claimed 18 lives so far this season.

Of those patients on trolleys, 84 required isolation due to the risk of spreading the virus.

This is despite a 50pc increase in the number of people getting the flu jab this year compared to the numbers getting the vaccination over the past four years.

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"The flu has come to Ireland much faster this year and has exceeded the peak in 2018," the minister said following the weekly meeting of the HSE's Winter Oversight Group yesterday.

Although health officials believe the number of flu cases is already higher now than the peak of 53 per 100,000 population which occurred at the height of the flu season last year, Mr Harris said we were not out of the woods yet.

"We feel the flu may have peaked but we still have another five weeks of the flu season left," he said. "There's no doubt this will put significant pressure on our system.

"It is important that you seek medical advice before you attend (hospital). Our hospitals are very busy and the sickest people will be seen first."

The number of patients on trolleys as of 8am yesterday morning was up 13.6pc over the same period last year.

A total of 113,059 patients had been awaiting treatment on trolleys between January 1 and 8am yesterday.

The number of people on trolleys awaiting treatment over the past week is also up 118pc, at 641 more than the same period last year.

Due to the surge in numbers and highly contagious nature of influenza, Mr Harris urged anyone who suspects they have the flu to remain at home and ring their GP instead of attending the surgery.

"There are a number of things you can do if you think you have the flu," he said.

They include logging on to the HSE's website and checking symptoms on the 'Under the Weather' section as a first port of call.

If the symptoms suggest flu-like illness, people should remain at home and be vigilant with hygiene practices, such as ensuring that you cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it immediately, he said.

He also urged people suffering from minor injuries from a fall or sprain to attend a minor injury clinic and not a hospital emergency department in order to reduce the numbers attending A&Es and the potential spread of the flu.

"Let's make sure we keep our emergency departments for emergencies," he said.

Dr Vida Hamilton, national clinical lead acute operations for the HSE, said severe symptoms of flu, such as confusion and the inability to speak properly, were indicative of a medical emergency.

"If you are breathless (when speaking) or confused or agitated and haven't been to the loo in 12 hours, you need to see a healthcare professional," she said.

"But if you can have a normal conversation and if you're able to take in fluids and can go to the loo, then the best option is to remain at home," she added.

The minister said: "What we don't want to have is the spread of the flu. But I am satisfied that everything that can be done is being done."

Irish Independent

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