The HSE again urges people in high-risk groups to get flu vaccine

The HSE again urges people in high-risk groups to get their flu vaccine, as the number of reported cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) in Ireland increased in the week before Christmas, meaning that flu is now actively circulating in Ireland.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, Director of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre said: “Influenza-like illness has increased in all age groups except in those aged 0-4 years. Hospitalised cases of influenza and influenza-associated outbreaks in residential care facilities have also increased. The HSE has in the last fortnight also been notified of a small number of deaths directly related to influenza (less than 10).’

‘These indicators tell us that flu is actively starting to circulate in the community, yet it’s not too late for people at risk to get the vaccine from their GP or Pharmacist. Prevention is better than cure, and the increase in flu activity means it is even more important to get your flu jab if you are in an at-risk group. Initial indications so far point to more people in at-risk groups and more healthcare workers getting the flu vaccine this year. The HSE would urge those who have not yet been vaccinated to join their peers and their colleagues in getting the flu vaccine.’

High-risk groups are:

  • All those aged 65 years and older
  • People including children with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-ups such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, chronic neurological disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders and diabetes
  • Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment and all cancer patients
  • All pregnant women. The vaccine can be given safely 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

“People in ‘at-risk’ groups can get the flu vaccine itself free of charge (people without medical or GP visit cards may be charged an administration fee).  This is because they are at much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch flu, and may need specific treatment or hospital care.

Symptoms of flu

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.

How to care for flu

Most people, unless they are in at-risk group, can get better themselves at home. Advice, tips, information and videos on getting over flu and other common illnesses are available at a new HSE website, www.undertheweather.ie. The site was developed by the HSE along with GPs and pharmacists and is a great resource for people to get advice and get better.

Anyone who gets flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms.

Anyone in one of the high-risk groups should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms. If you need to visit your GP or the Emergency Department, please phone first to explain that you might have flu.

Service preparedness

The vast majority of people with flu can recover by themselves at home, with rest, fluids and over the counter medication. The HSE provides useful, comprehensive advice on how to recognise flu, and care for yourself or someone else, on our www.undertheweather.ie website.

The website also gives advice on when to seek medical care or advice on the phone, whether this is from the Pharmacist, the GP, a GP Out of Hours Service, an Injury Unit or in the case of medical emergencies, the Ambulance Service or Hospital Emergency Departments.  You can visit www.hse.ie/winter for easy access to contact details for the range of services available.

The HSE works each year with our services around the country to prepare for the impact of flu outbreaks on our services. This involves:

  • Delivery and promotion of the flu vaccine to the public and healthcare workers
  • Training for staff, peer vaccinator programmes and medication protocols
  • National public information campaign on radio and online, printed information resources and promotional materials for GPs and Pharmacists
  • Hospital Groups and Community HealthCare Organisations all produce a local/regional flu plan to allow services to respond to increases in demand
  • Surveillance and Reporting via www.hpsc.ie - surveillance reports on influenza-like illness and influenza infection surveillance are published weekly throughout the flu season. Clinicians are notified and issued with guidance on the use of antiviral medications for influenza treatment and prophylaxis.

Stopping flu from spreading

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon as you can are important measures in helping prevent the spread of influenza and other germs and reducing the risk of transmission.

Flu vaccine

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA states that the influenza vaccine is  50-60% effective in preventing hospitalisation among elderly persons and 80% effective in preventing death among elderly persons.

The Australian flu season has been dominated by influenza A (H3N2) co-circulating with influenza B.  The influenza A (H3N2) strain currently circulating in Australia is similar to the H3N2 strain which dominated last year’s flu season in Ireland and in Europe(2016/2017). This strain of flu was included in the vaccine which has been available in Ireland since September 2017 for this flu season. To date, based on antigenic characterisation of circulating influenza viruses in Australia, the seasonal influenza vaccines appear to be a moderate to good match for circulating virus strains, depending on the strain. Vaccine effectiveness estimates, which provide an indication of how well the vaccine provides protection against influenza, will not be completed until the end of the influenza season.

In Europe, influenza vaccine effectiveness studies were initiated by ECDC and have been followed systematically since the influenza season 2008–09 by a network of public health and academic researchers (I-MOVE ). In general, a vaccine effectiveness of approximately 40-60% has been estimated for the three different influenza A (H1N1, H3N2) and B strains (Victoria or Yamagata lineages) (these are the strains in the current flu vaccine). 

The HSE urges all those in risk groups (e.g. those aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, those clinically at risk and healthcare workers) to get the flu vaccine now if they have not gotten it already, the vaccine takes two weeks to work.

Data sources and reports

ILI rates give an indication of the overall community levels 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. Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses.

See our weekly influenza surveillance reports.

Last updated on: 02 / 01 / 2018