SEVENTY children under four years of age have been hospitalised with flu -- six of these have been admitted to intensive care.
Children make up the single biggest group in the country suffering from the severe effects of swine flu and other strains of the virus, which has killed two people -- a man in the east of the country and a woman in the west.
One of the people who died was in the 15-64 age group and one was over 65 years. Both patients had underlying medical conditions.
As flu rates double to record levels in the past week, it has emerged that a total of 87 children under the age of 14 have been admitted to hospital.
All of the six children taken into intensive care were all up to four years of age and five of them are still being treated in ICU. The rate of flu in this age group is more than double that of any other group.
In addition, 38 pregnant women have been infected with flu and 21 of them had to be hospitalised -- 20 with swine flu and one with another form of the virus.
Flu has now hit 9,130 people and 393 of these have been admitted to hospital. In 72 people the symptoms were so serious they needed intensive care and at least 42 of this group continue to be treated for serious complications.
They include 37 adults and five children.
Government chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said hospitals had been told to open additional beds where needed to cope with the volume of patients needing intensive care.
He admitted that overcrowding in A&E left patients at a high risk of cross-infection and said that hospitals should move patients from trolleys in emergency units to wards to reduce that risk.
The rate of flu-like illness has jumped from 204 per 100,000 population compared with 114 the previous week.
Eight in 10 of these cases have been diagnosed with swine flu and the rest have different strains of the virus, according to the latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
Dr Kevin Kelleher, head of health protection in the HSE, said family doctors will be given additional stocks of last year's swine flu vaccine by today.
They will also receive more seasonal flu vaccine -- which also protects against other strains -- in the next week or two.
The number of calls to GP out of hours services for flu reached the highest recorded levels during the week.