HSE and Government urged to prepare for surge in 'Aussie flu' cases
The Fianna Fail spokesman on health, Cork TD Billy Kelleher, has urged his government counterpart Simon Harris to ensure resources are put in place to deal with a possible spike in the numbers of the so called 'Aussie Flu' cases.
His call has come after fears that a surge in the number of people being admitted to hospital with the condition may put already overstretched hospital accident and emergency departments under even more pressure.
The HSE has confirmed that the strain of the disease, also known as H3N2, has already claimed the lives of "less that 10 people" in Ireland.
It is understood that since Aussie Flu first appeared in Ireland it has led to more than 70 hospitalisations this winter, with almost 20 of those in the last week of December alone.
Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE confirmed to independent.ie that a number of deaths have been recorded in Ireland as the stain sweeps across the country.
"There have been a few deaths already. I don't give specific numbers, which is less than 10, because people could be identified," said Dr Kelleher.
He said it was not too late for people to be vaccinated against the flu.
There are three main types of flu virus - A, B and C - and hundreds of different subtypes. The H3N2 flu, a subtype on influenza A, has triggered a huge rise in the number of cases in Australia, earning it the nickname 'Aussie Flu'. Health experts have predicted that the latest flu outbreak has the potential to be the worst in half a century. This is based on the recent Australian epidemic, which saw twice as many reported cases and deaths as there were in the previous year.
It is understood that some of Australia's emergency units had standing room only after being swamped by those with the H2N2 strain.
Deputy Kelleher reiterated the HSE's call for people to get the flu vaccine, especially those within high risk groups, saying the fact that a number of deaths have now been recorded in Ireland was "particularly worrying."
"Older people, children, and people with underlying health conditions are at particular risk and it's feared that the number of cases here could rise dramatically over the coming weeks," he said. Deputy Kelleher said he was concerned that any further significant increase in case could pose a threat to the "already overburdened hospital system".
"In the majority of cases, this flu, while serious, can be treated at home. However, there will always be more severe cases, which will need acute medical intervention. There are a number of hospitals whose emergency departments are at breaking point and if the predicted surge in serious flu cases comes to pass, these departments will struggle to cope," he said. "I am calling for assurances from Minister Harris and the HSE that we are fully prepared to deal with any possible outbreak, and that a management plan and resources are in place to properly control the situation."
What are the symptoms and who is most at risk?
The symptoms of Aussie flu strain are similar to those caused by regular flu but can be more severe or contagious than others.
Symptoms can include:
- Sore throat and cough.
- Sudden fever, runny nose and sneezing.
- Head and muscle aches.
- Aussie Flu can lead to pneumonia and other potentially fatal complications.
People usually recover from flu within a week so, although the cough and fatigue may last longer. If the flu persists it's a good indication to seek medical help.
Vaccination is the best protection against the flu, with the HSE saying that people within the at risk groups can get the flu vaccine for free (people without medical or GP visit cards may be charged an administration fee).
The HSE have said that high-risk groups are:
- All those aged 65 years and older.
- People including children with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, chronic neurological disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders and diabetes.
- Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment and all cancer patients.
- All pregnant women. The vaccine can be given safely at any stage of pregnancy.
- Those with morbid obesity i.e. Body Mass Index equal to or greater than 40.
- Residents of nursing homes, old people's homes and other long stay facilities.
- Health care workers and carer's of those in risk groups.