Life Health & Wellbeing

Tuesday 15 October 2019

'200 Irish people died last year' - leading researcher issues vaccine warning before winter

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

A leading medical researcher has warned that influenza season is due to hit Ireland, and people should get vaccinated to protect against it.

Dr Cillian De Gascun, consultant virologist and laboratory director at the UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory said 200 people died from flu in Ireland last year.

“At present, we are seeing very little influenza activity in Ireland, so it’s a good time to get the vaccine, as it takes about two weeks to take effect.”

“Getting the flu vaccination is the best preventive measure we have against influenza, especially for people in the at-risk groups.”

People over the age of 65, pregnant women and those with long term health conditions are in an “at risk group”

There are distinct differences between the common cold and the flu, Dr De Gascun said.

“Anyone who’s had influenza probably won’t forget it, it involves significant aches and pains, significant fevers – you wake up and your pyjamas and bed clothes are drenched in sweat. It can really knock you for six for a week or two.”

“The cold tends to be quite localised; it tends to affect the upper respiratory tract, the blocked nose, sore throat, and cough. You don’t get the whole-body, systemic effect that you do with influenza.”

He added: “A huge number of viruses are responsible for the common cold so we don’t have an anti-viral medication for it, so it’s about symptomatic management and keeping hydrated.”

Out of every 1,000 influenza cases in Ireland, one or two people die, Dr De Gascun said.

“We’re currently in week 41 of the year; the influenza runs between week 40 and week 20 of the calendar year. The advice is to get the vaccine and to protect yourself.”

“Generally speaking we have somewhere in the region of 100 deaths in notified cases. So we probably don’t know how many cases we have. Last year we had over 200 deaths in the influenza season. Obviously a lot of those people would have had baseline conditions that put them at risk, and it’s important to get the vaccine uptake as high as possible to stop the spread.”

“The vaccine is the best method for protecting you against influenza. There is an anti-viral medication, and that’s recommended to at-risk groups if they’re diagnosed with influenza.”

“Last year was particularly severe from a numbers perspective. There was an awful lot of influenza and infections around."

He added: “Even if the overall number of deaths is not a huge number, there’s a huge impact on hospitals every year; influenza season puts press on the system. There is significant morbidity, or people that have to go to hospital, and that causes a burden on the health service.”

Dr De Gascun was speaking at the launch of this year’s Boots winter flu vaccination service. For more information, see

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