Swine flu kills two as death toll hits 24
TWO men have died in the first recorded deaths from swine flu so far this year.
It brings to 24 the total number of people who have died from the virus in Ireland.
The men, who were both from the east of the country and had underlying medical conditions, died last week.
They were the first deaths from the H1N1 virus since December and coincide with a slight increase in infections.
There was a sharp fall in the number of cases of swine flu at the start of the year. However, it is on the rise again.
The rate of flu-like illnesses last week was running at 8.8 people per 100,000 of the population, up from 7.3 a week earlier.
Infection rates are highest among children under four years followed by those between 15 and 64 years and those aged 65 and over.
The Department of Health and the Health Services Executive (HSE) refused to release any further details about the dead men.
Health Minister Mary Harney, who is in New Zealand for St Patrick's Day celebrations, offered her sympathies to the families of the two men.
In a statement released last night, the department pointed out that the rate of swine flu in Ireland was still low and continued to fall below the seasonal-threshold level. However, it reiterated its warning that the virus could have a serious impact on certain groups of the population.
The HSE said it would continue to offer free swine flu vaccines to schoolchildren and members of the public who want to receive it until the end of this month. It also reminded pregnant women that they were still advised to be vaccinated.
"Anyone who has not yet been vaccinated is advised to come to a HSE clinic for their vaccine as soon as possible as the vaccination programme will cease in just under three weeks' time," it said.
Appointments for the free vaccine can be made on www.swineflu.ie or by contacting the HSE information line on 1800 941100.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned this week that the H1N1 virus would spread at low levels this spring and summer before it makes a resurgence next winter. It advised people to accept vaccination when it was offered to them.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide have been vaccinated against swine flu.