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Substantial increase in flu expected to 'peak in next week or two'

Provisional data shows that there were 1,628 cases of flu recorded in the first week of the year.

THE HSE HAS said there has been a substantial increase in the number of respiratory illnesses and hospitalisations in the first week of the year, which is leading to increased pressure on hospitals.

The health service said that it expects that influenza activity will continue to rise before reaching a peak in the coming weeks.

According to provisional data published on the HPSC Respiratory Virus Notification Data Hub this afternoon, there were 1,628 cases of flu recorded in the week to 6 January. 

Of those, 414 were hospitalised. 

This is the highest number of flu cases and hospitalisations so far this winter season, and nearly double what was recorded the week before Christmas.

The data also shows that 1,200 cases of Covid-19 were recroded in the same week, of whom 459 were hospitalised.

The HSE said that this is the highest number of Covid cases seen since the last wave of the virus in August 2023.

There were also over 465 cases of RSV recorded, a slight increase after several weeks of a decreasing trend. Of those cases, 147 were hospitalised.

The health service noted that RSV activity peaked in early December and declined throughout December.

“This slight increase is usual in early January, following socialisation over the Christmas period and the return to school/child care,” it said in a statement. “The increase in RSV in early January each season is generally at a lower level than the initial peak of activity.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, clinical lead for the HSE National Programme for Emergency Medicine Dr Gerry McCarthy said the health service is seeing the usual rise of infectious diseases a little bit later this year than last year.

“We’re expecting them to peak in the next week or two,” he said. 

The HSE is advising anyone who have symptoms of Covid-19 or flu and who feel unwell to stay at home until 48 hours after your symptoms are mostly or fully gone and to avoid contact with other people, especially people at higher risk from Covid. 

They are also advising those who are aged 65 or older, those who are pregnant, and those with a chronic medical condition or a weakened immune system to seek further health advice if they are unwell.

Anyone whose symptoms do not improve after seven days or become progressively worse should also seek further medical advice. 

McCarthy urged people to treat their symptoms at home rather than attending hospital if possible. 

“A big message we’re trying to get out is if you don’t feel that sick, consider other treatment options before coming to the hospital, and in general, people do that,” he said. 

He said that anyone attending a hospital at the moment with symptoms of respiratory illness should wear a mask. 

“If a person comes to a hospital with any suggestion of respiratory and they’re not already wearing a mask, they will certainly be provided with one, and all staff dealing with them will be masked up,” he said.

“Many hospitals are deciding off their own bat, based on their local data of what kinds of patients and how many infective illnesses are coming in, to have mandatory mask wearing.

“I think we should be increasing the wearing of masks at the moment.”

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