Flu is circulating in the community, warns health authority

People in high risk groups, such as the over 65s and pregnant women, are being urged to get vaccinated against flu. The appeal from health authorities comes as the number of reported cases of influenza-like illness (ILI ) nationally has increased in the past week.

ILI rates have risen from 15.5 per 100,000 to 29.0 per 100,000 population during the second week of January. It is now above threshold levels which means that flu is “actively circulating” in the community, according to the director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, Dr Darina O’Flanagan. It is expected to remain around for the next two months.

“Although flu is starting to circulate, levels currently remain relatively low,” she says. “Despite this, we have had a number of confirmed influenza outbreaks, mainly in residential facilities for the elderly and disabled.

“Influenza is expected to increase over the coming weeks and circulate for at least the next six to eight weeks. 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.”

These include:-

• People aged 65 years and older

• People, including children with chronic illness, requiring regular medical follow-up, such as chronic lung, heart disease, neurological disorders, neuro-developmental disorders and diabetes

• Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment

• All pregnant women. The vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy.

• Those with morbid obesity, ie, Body Mass Index greater than 40

• Residents of nursing homes, old people's homes and other long stay facilities

• Health care workers and carers of those in risk groups.

The vaccine is available free from GPs for people in at risk goups, and from pharmacists for everyone aged 65 years and over. An administration charge may apply to people who do not hold medical cards or GP visit cards.

“Most people, unless they are in an 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, GPs and pharmacists and is a resource for people seeking health advice.”

Flu symptoms 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,” explains Dr O’Flanagan. “Anyone in one of the high-risk categories should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms. GPs may wish to prescribe antivirals for those presenting with influenza in the high risk groups.

“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 germs and reducing the risk of transmission.”

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