The chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum is calling for the health authority to re-open free swine flu vaccination clinics for the general population amid fears that the numbers contracting the virus will continue to rise.
Cllr Padraig Conneely made his comments as management at Galway University Hospitals [UHG and Merlin Park] announced on Tuesday that visiting restrictions are in place at the facilities due to the presence of influenza cases.
The re-opening of local schools as well as the return of thousands of third level students to NUI Galway and GMIT is likely to result in a further increase in flu-like illnesses, warns the Fine Gael former mayor.
He says people are very concerned and he is urging the HSE to be prepared and to act fast.
“I’ll be talking to John Hennessy, the HSE West’s regional director of operations, today and will impress upon him the need to open these centres. I am asking the HSE not to stand idly by, I want it to be prepared, not to sit on its hands.
“There is huge concern in the community, last year before we all knew about swine flu people were treating it as a bit of a joke but this attitude has changed. People realise it is a very serious condition.
“Vaccination stations should be put in place before it kicks in further when the schools and colleges re-open next week. The risks will increase massively then. Procedures would have been in place since last year so it should be easy to build on those.”
The city councillor says there is a need to allay people’s fears and offering the entire population a free swine flu jab would go a long way to doing this.
He was speaking as GPs report being very busy with out-of-hours calls to patients, including children and teenagers, with suspected flu.
Meanwhile the HSE West is seeking the co-operation of the public in preventing the spread of flu by adhering to the following guidelines:
• Visitors are asked not to visit University hospitals unless it is essential. Visitor numbers should be kept to a minimum and be confined to visiting times only;
• Visitors who may be unwell or have any flu symptoms should not visit the hospital. Very young children or those with some other serious illness should avoid visiting the facility because they may be particularly susceptible to the virus;
• Visitors are asked to wash their hands thoroughly before entering or leaving inpatient areas.
“All appropriate infection control measures are being taken to deal with this situation. The visiting restrictions will remain in place until the situation has been resolved. Galway University Hospitals wishes to thank the public for their cooperation.”
A spokesperson for the HSE West says each winter sees an increase in the number of people suffering from flu.
“We are now experiencing our annual seasonal flu season and, as had been expected, this year the predominant flu virus is the H1N1 virus also known as swine flu. This mainly affects younger people and those with pre-existing medical conditions, women who are pregnant or have been in the last six to eight weeks are also particularly at risk.
“We are now seeing a major rise in people attending GPs and GP out-of-hours services with flu-like illnesses. Most people who get the flu are able to self medicate and be looked after at home, with rest and plenty of fluids, as with seasonal flu. However, as had been anticipated, this winter some people have been hospitalised as a result of their illness and a small number have been admitted to intensive care units.”
The best protection from the virus is the flu vaccine. “This year’s seasonal flu vaccine, available from your GP, also has protection against the H1N1 virus (swine flu ) along with two other potential flu viruses. Anyone who has not already had the vaccine, particularly pregnant women, people with long term health conditions, people aged 65 and over and their carers and healthcare workers should consider getting it.
“The seasonal flu vaccination campaign, which began in September, includes pregnant women for the first time. This year a large number of people in Ireland will be immune to the H1N1 virus, either because they had the virus last year or because they received the vaccine during the Swine Flu Vaccination Programme that ran from November 2009 to March 2010. In particular, the groups most affected by H1N1 were widely vaccinated - including children, young people, those with chronic illness and pregnant women.
For further information on the seasonal flu vaccination and the symptoms of H1N1 virus log onto www.hse.ie The website also features detailed questions and answers on flu, the symptoms, how to treat them and how to care for flu at home.