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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019
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A number of people have died due to flu, as two strains of the virus hit Ireland

Elective surgeries have been postponed in some hospitals in a bid to prioritise emergencies.

Image: Shutterstock/CandyBox Images

THE NUMBER OF flu cases is expected to rise in the coming weeks, with at-risk groups being advised to get vaccinated against the virus.

Two different viruses have been detected in Ireland – the influenza A virus (H3) and the B virus.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland, Dr Kevin Kelleher, the HSE’s Assistant National Director for Health Protection, said fewer than 10 people have died as a result of the flu and flu-related complications this winter.

“Last year was one of the worst flu seasons we’ve had, excluding the swine flu, in the last decade/15 years.” Kelleher said it’s “difficult to predict” if this year will be as bad.

The A virus predominantly affects older people, while the B virus mainly affects younger people. The flu vaccine covers the A virus, but it doesn’t totally cover the B virus.

Kelleher said there has been an increase in the uptake of the vaccine uptake this winter, both among healthcare workers and the general population. He said it’s not too late to get the vaccination, noting it takes about 10-14 days to kick in.

People over the age of 70 and those with pre-existing medical conditions have been particularly encouraged to get vaccinated. The vaccine can be given by a GP or pharmacist.

Kelleher said the annual increase in the number of flu cases has already begun.

“We’re able to track most of these numbers on a weekly basis, although over Christmas it isn’t quite as accurate as it would be normally during the rest of the year. So far this year, we’ve seen around 190 people hospitalised … and 65 in the week before Christmas.

We know that the flu season for Ireland has now started, and therefore it goes up on quite a sharp graph for about four/five weeks and then comes down over about a four, fix, six-week period as well.

“So we’re going to expect to see the numbers go up. The week before Christmas saw nearly half of all the cases (last) year … We’d expect to see the peak in the middle, in the third/fourth week of this month,” he stated.

The H3 virus was also prevalent last winter and is currently doing the rounds in Australia as well.

“I’m not sure if the Australian flu is the Irish flu because they got in from us, or it’s the Australian flu because we got it from them, but we know it’s that virus,” Kelleher said.

Surgeries postponed

Elective surgeries have been postponed in some hospitals in a bid to prioritise emergencies and deal with the increase in flu cases.

Speaking about this, Kelleher said “balancing acts” are needed.

This is one of the times of the year where we know there are surgeries so we try to plan that, we try to reduce the amount of planned activity we have for the period around Christmas and the new year, particularly when we know the flu is about to start, to try and create the capacity to deal with that.

“It’s one of the things we have to try and balance, it’s not easy and people do try, as much as possible, to balance the two, but equally, invariably, the people coming in as emergencies will take priority.”

Kelleher said most people can fight off the flu by taking medication and lots of fluids at home, while some people – particularly those in at-risk groups – may need to be hospitalised.

“The flu, generally speaking, really hits you very hard. You speak to people who’ve had the flu and know they’ve had the flu, been told explicitly they’ve had the flu, they often find it difficult to get out of bed, it’s not an easy thing to do.

At this time of the year we’re trying to prevent these sort of viruses being spread around, so if people start feeling unwell, one of our main pieces of advice is that people should stay at home.

“It’s just the few people who have pre-existing conditions or who are quite elderly, who often have pre-existing conditions, who need to be admitted to hospital.

“Even then, what they should do is speak to their doctors first so we can make sure we don’t bring people into areas where there are other people where we can spread the disease.”

Read: People urged to get flu vaccine after jump in cases of influenza-like illness

Read: Surgeries at Cork hospital cancelled for two weeks as flu and ‘revelry’ make their impact

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Órla Ryan

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