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HSE warned cases of flu 'high' as the virus loomed

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Paul Reid HSE CEO. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Paul Reid HSE CEO. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Paul Reid HSE CEO. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

The board of the HSE was warned that cases of the flu were "especially high" among the elderly as the coronavirus outbreak loomed.

The concerns over the annual influenza season were raised at the first HSE board meeting where Covid-19 was on the agenda.

HSE chief operating officer Anne O'Connor briefed board members on January 31 and highlighted how "challenges remain to cope with the flu season this year". The minutes of the meeting note flu was "especially high" in the older population and members also expressed concern over the low uptake of the flu vaccine among health professionals.

There have been more than 11,000 cases of the various strains of flu in Ireland since the start of October 2019. There have been 103 influenza-associated deaths, 87 of these have been among the over-65s. This is lower than the 255 deaths that occurred in 2017-2018 in what was classified as a severe season.

The January 31 meeting came one day after the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus to be a public health emergency of international concern.

HSE boss Paul Reid told the board a crisis management team had been mobilised and coronavirus was described as a "serious public health issue".

The next board meeting was on February 28, the day before the first Covid-19 case was identified in Ireland. Public health specialist Dr Kevin Kelleher briefed members on preparations for a potential case here. Transmission of the disease was said to be "freely occurring" in Italy and Iran.

"As a consequence, there is concern with people returning from these areas with significant risk of the virus spreading as a result," the minutes said.

Irish Independent