Parents are urged to be alert for the symptoms of swine flu as concern grows about the number of healthy children who are being struck down by the potentially killer virus.
Swine flu is now circulating widely and has already led to six deaths this winter, including the tragic loss of a five-year-old boy with no pre-existing illness in Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin.
The swiftness of the unexpected death of the young boy from Leitrim has left his parents devastated. Friends said he was "never sick a day in his short life".
He was initially treated by a GP before being referred to Sligo Regional Hospital and transferred to Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin, Dublin.
Doctors rushed him to intensive care but his condition deteriorated and he passed away with his family by his bedside.
A second unrelated patient with swine flu has also been treated in the past two days.
Dr Alf Nicholson, a paediatrician in Temple Street children's hospital, confirmed doctors are seeing a rise in children suffering flu since January, including healthy youngsters who are not in an at-risk group and are healthy.
"Some children have become extremely unwell with it," he added.
He urged parents to remain vigilant for symptoms. A spokeswoman for the hospital said 10 children with swine flu have been admitted to Temple Street since January and two had to be placed in the intensive care unit.
Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin said it has diagnosed 11 children with swine flu since the beginning of the year.
Swine flu, the common name for the H1N1 virus, was at the centre of a worldwide pandemic in 2009, killing 18,500 people in 214 countries. It is now possible to reduce the risk of contracting the flu by getting the winter vaccine.
It is making a big resurgence this winter and is claiming many lives in Eastern Europe.
The B strain of the flu is also circulating strongly here and has been responsible for several deaths.
Dr Kevin Kelleher, head of health protection in the Health Service Executive (HSE), said yesterday the flu poses the greatest risk to children and adults with underlying health conditions and all of these should be vaccinated.
However, if parents want reassurance, they could also get the vaccine for children over six months who are healthy.
"There is a whole cohort of children who have not been vaccinated."
He said he particularly advises it for children who have pre-existing medical conditions like bronchitis or heart disease.
GPs are reporting that the highest number of patients complaining of flu-like illness are in the five- to 14-year age group.
To date this winter, 149 children under 14 have been admitted to hospital and the highest rate of admission to intensive care was among babies under 12 months of age.
A spokeswoman for Our Lady's in Crumlin insisted yesterday that it reported the child's death from swine flu to the HSE, despite confusion about confirmation of the case.
The HSE said yesterday that all of the children's hospitals and units throughout the country "would like to reassure patients and families that they are fully operational during this flu season and, if children have appointments, they should attend as scheduled".
"The hospitals always apply strict infection control practices and in particular during peak periods of community-acquired flu."
It is important that children be brought for any appointments. Patients and visitors should comply with infection control procedures, especially hand hygiene, while visiting the hospital. Further information for managing flu symptoms can be found at www.undertheweather.ie/ailment/flu
Symptoms of swine flu are similar to other strains of the condition and include:
Call your GP if you have flu-like symptoms and are at a higher risk of complications of seasonal flu.