NDSC urges high-risk categories to get vaccinated against flu as cases more than double in two weeks

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The National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Wednesday) urged people in high-risk categories to get vaccinated against influenza, as the number of reported cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) reported in Ireland has more than doubled in the past two weeks.

High-risk categories include:

  • The over 65s
  • People with severe illness such as chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease and diabetes
  • Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment, including those who have had their spleens removed
  • Children or teenagers on long-term aspirin therapy
  • Residents of nursing homes, old people's homes and other long stay facilities
  • Health care workers

"The rate of ILI cases has risen to an estimated 70 cases for every 100,000 people over the past week, the highest rate reported in Ireland for this time of year since influenza surveillance began in 2000," according to NDSC clinical microbiologist, Dr Robert Cunney.

"Influenza viruses are divided into three main types, A, B and C. Influenza A generally causes the most severe form of the disease. Different strains of influenza virus circulate worldwide every year and the influenza vaccine is updated each year to cover the strains that are likely to cause infection during the coming influenza season, usually from November to April.

"The National Virus Reference Laboratory has confirmed that the main strain circulating in Ireland is an influenza A (H3N2) Fujian-like strain. The same strain is circulating in other European countries, including the UK. This strain is slightly different to the influenza A (H3N2) Panama-like virus, which has circulated in Ireland and other European countries over the past few years. The current influenza vaccine contains the Panama-like virus and is considered to offer some protection against the Fujian-like strain and good protection against other strains that may also circulate.

"The symptoms of influenza infection 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. Persons who are in one of the high risk categories should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms," said Dr Cunney.

Health authorities in the UK have reported six deaths related to influenza A in children in the past two months. It is not known if this represents a genuine increase in deaths from influenza, as it may be related to new technologies that are used to detect the influenza virus. "No deaths from influenza have been reported in Ireland, despite high levels of influenza activity, two large outbreaks in schools and the use of the same new technologies for influenza detection here," Dr Cunney explained.

ILI rates give an indication of the overall level of influenza activity in Ireland and are reported by selected general practitioners as part of a surveillance system jointly run by the Irish College of General Practitioners, the National Virus Reference Laboratory and the National Disease Surveillance Centre.