The Health Service Executive (HSE) has urged vulnerable groups to get vaccinated after new data showed that the annual flu season is expected to arrive within weeks.
Figures released by the executive at a weekly update of its ‘winter plan’ today showed that the number of cases of influenza-like illnesses has risen compared with the same time last year.
Data also showed that 19 people were hospitalised by the illness last week, one of whom required intensive care.
The HSE’s Assistant National Director of Health Protection, Dr Kevin Kelleher, said the recent upsurge in cases suggested that the annual flu season could arrive within two or three weeks.
“We’re still at the point where prevention is possible,” Kelleher said.
“Anyone who’s in the [vulnerable] groups – over 65s or under 65s with medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or who are being treated for cancer – should get the vaccine.
“As should pregnant women. They are really quite an important group because [the flu] can be really catastrophic for one or two pregnant women each year.”
He also urged parents to keep children away from elderly relatives such as their grandparents if they picked up the illness, in order to prevent its spread to more vulnerable individuals.
The HSE has reminded those with flu-like symptoms to wash their hands and warned that there was no evidence that face-masks were an effective method of containing the illness.
“If you’re trying to prevent by wearing a mask, it’s your hands picking up viruses that live on surfaces for weeks,” Dr Vida Hamilton, the executive’s National Clinical Advisor said.
“You pick it up, then you touch your face or you fiddle with your mask, and you’ve exposed yourself to the virus.
“So in terms of prevention, hand-washing is the most effective method and good infection prevention and control practices.”
Kelleher added that those afflicted with the flu should sneeze into paper tissues or their elbows and then use alcohol gel to wash their hands to avoid contaminating others.
“It’s really an important issue every year, this issue of how you don’t spread the flu or any other respiratory virus by the way you deal with it,” he said.
The HSE also reminded the public that a winter ready checklist was available for vulnerable members of the public on its website.