Increase in influenza-like illness

Published:

People in high-risk groups are urged to get vaccinated against influenza, as the number of reported cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) in Ireland 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 and are now above threshold levels which means that flu is actively circulating in the community. There have been a number of confirmed influenza outbreaks, mainly in residential facilities for the elderly and disabled.  Influenza A (H3) is the predominant virus in circulation. Influenza is expected to increase over the coming weeks and circulate for at least the next 6-8 weeks.
 
The vaccine is available free of charge from GPs for all people in at risk groups, and from pharmacists for everyone aged 65 years and over.  An administration charge may apply to people who don’t hold medical cards or GP visit cards.

At-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
  • All pregnant women. The vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy.
  • Those with morbid obesity i.e. Body Mass Index ≥ 40
  • Residents of nursing homes, old people's homes and other long stay facilities
  • Health care workers and carers of those in risk groups.

Anyone who gets flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms. Advice, tips, information and videos on getting over flu and other common illnesses are available at a new HSE website, www.undertheweather.ie. 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 (catch it), disposing of the tissue as soon as possible (bin it) and cleaning your hands as soon as you can (kill it) are important measures in helping prevent the spread of germs and reducing the risk of transmission. Posters on respiratory etiquette are available on the HPSC website.

ILI rates give an indication of the overall level of influenza activity in Ireland and are reported by selected GPs as part of a surveillance system jointly run by the Irish College of General Practitioners, the National Virus Reference Laboratory and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre. There is international evidence that some A(H3N2) viruses appear to have drifted antigenically from the A(H3) virus strain used in the 2014/2015 influenza vaccine. Flu viruses change constantly and the drifted H3N2 viruses did not appear until after the vaccine composition for the Northern Hemisphere had been chosen.

This does not change the recommendation to vaccinate groups at risk of developing severe influenza symptoms. Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses. Vaccination will still prevent some infections and can reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalisation and death. Also, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against two other influenza viruses and these other viruses may circulate later in the season. Further information is available on the ECDC website here.

The weekly influenza surveillance reports and further information on influenza and flu vaccine are available on the HPSC website.

Additional information:

CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) - Early Estimates of Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, January 2015