HPSC urges high-risk categories to get vaccinated as flu continues to circulate

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The Health Protection 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) in Ireland continues to rise.

ILI rates have risen from 72.8 per 100,000 in the last week of December 2008 to 100.6 per 100,000 in the first week of January 2009. This is the highest rate seen since the 2000/2001 influenza season.

"As influenza continues to circulate in the community, it is important that people in high-risk categories get vaccinated against influenza," says HPSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Derval Igoe.

"High-risk groups are:

  • The over 65s
  • People including children with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart 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 and carers of those in risk groups.

"Health Professionals should use antiviral drugs for the treatment or prevention of influenza in high-risk groups.

"The symptoms of influenza 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. People in high-risk categories should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms.

"Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and washing your hands with soap and water as soon as you can are important measures in helping prevent the spread of flu," added Dr Igoe.

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.