Influenza activity continues to decrease
Influenza-like illness (ILI) rates decreased to 29.3 per 100,000 population during the week ending January 29th 2017 compared to the updated rate of 32.9 per 100,000 during the previous week. The ILI rate is now below the medium intensity threshold level (58.7/100,000 population) but still remains above the baseline. Influenza hospitalisations and outbreaks continue to be reported but both are decreasing. Influenza A (H3N2) is the main influenza virus circulating in Ireland, mainly affecting those aged 65 years and older.
Forty deaths associated with influenza have been reported to HPSC to date this season, the majority of these were aged 65 years and older. Excess deaths from all causes in those aged 65 years and older were reported over a six week period (mid December 2016 to late January 2017) most likely associated with the circulation of influenza A(H3N2). Seasons where influenza A(H3N2) is the predominant virus in circulation result in excess deaths in those aged 65 years and older.
Genetic analysis was undertaken by the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) on a selection of influenza samples from patients. The majority (73%) of circulating influenza A(H3N2) strains sequenced match the current vaccine strain.
The influenza vaccine is available free of charge from GPs for all people in at risk groups, and from pharmacists for everyone in risk groups aged 18 years and over. An administration charge may apply to people who don’t hold medical cards or GP visit cards.
At-risk groups for the vaccine 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 at-risk groups.
Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses and can reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalisation and death.
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 GP consultation rates give an indication of the overall community levels of influenza activity in Ireland and are reported by a network of sentinel 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.
The weekly influenza surveillance reports and further information on influenza and flu vaccine are available on the HPSC website.