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High-risk groups include healthcare workers and carer’s of people in at-risk groups.
During week 50, 2017 (week ending 17 December), the GP consultation rate for influenza-like illness (ILI) in Ireland increased to 20.3 per 100,000 population from an updated rate of 6.8 per 100,000 during week 49, 2017 (week ending 10 December). Flu rates are above the baseline threshold, a level which means that flu is actively circulating in the community, according to the Director of HPSC Dr Kevin Kelleher.
“Influenza-like illness increased in all age groups except in those aged 0-4 years. Hospitalised cases of influenza and influenza-associated outbreaks in residential care facilities have also increased. Although flu is starting to circulate, flu activity remains at low levels.
“Prevention is better than cure, and the increase in flu activity means it is even more important to get your flu jab if you are in an at-risk group. Initial indications so far point to more people in at-risk groups and more healthcare workers getting the flu vaccine this year. The HSE would urge those who have not yet been vaccinated to join their peers and their colleagues in getting the flu vaccine this year.”
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 ≥ 40
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-stay facilities
• Healthcare workers and carer’s of those in at-risk groups
“People in at-risk groups can get the vaccine for free as they are at much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch flu, and sadly many end up in hospital,” said Dr Kelleher.
“Most people, unless they are in at-risk group, can get better themselves at home. Advice, tips, information and videos on getting over flu and other common illnesses are available at a new HSE website, www.undertheweather.ie. The site was developed by the HSE along with GPs and pharmacists and is a great resource for people to get advice and get better.
“The symptoms of influenza usually develop over a matter of a few hours and include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat. This is different from the common cold, which tends to come on more gradually and usually includes a runny nose and a normal temperature.
“Anyone who gets flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms. Anyone in one of the high-risk groups should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms. If you need to visit your GP or the emergency department, please phone first to explain that you might have flu.
“Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon as you can are important measures in helping prevent the spread of influenza and other germs and reducing the risk of transmission,” added Dr Kelleher.
ILI rates give an indication of the overall community levels of influenza activity in Ireland and are reported by selected GPs as part of a surveillance system jointly run by the ICGP, the National Virus Reference Laboratory and the HPSC.
Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses.
The weekly influenza surveillance reports and further information on influenza and flu vaccine are available at www.hpsc.ie.