'B' strain of the flu which is not covered by vaccine is spreading
A strain of flu which is not covered by the only seasonal vaccine available free to at-risk patients is spreading and threatening to heap more misery on the country's emergency departments.
Although "Australian flu" (AH3N2) continues to be a major risk, it has been overtaken by a separate B strain of the virus, which the thousands of people who got the vaccine are not adequately protected against.
The emergence of this strain was not foreseen by public health officials here.
The unexpected Influenza B Yamagata strain is now accounting for between 60 to 70pc of confirmed flu cases, the Herald has learned.
A second expensive vaccine, which provides more protection to patients from this flu, has not been purchased by the HSE.
The HSE said yesterday it has confined its stocks of vaccine this winter to the trivalent flu jab. This was the vaccine recommended by the Department of Health and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.
It bought more than one million supplies of the standard flu vaccine, which the World Health Organisation forecast would include protection against the main strains circulating this winter.
The hope is that this standard vaccine may still provide some limited coverage against the B Yamagata strain, but it is unclear how much.
The B strain is not seen as being as severe as Australian flu and is more likely to affect younger age groups who have not been previously exposed to the virus.
The latest outbreak comes as patients across the country endured more gruelling delays for a bed yesterday, as 555 waited on trolleys, some of them stacked in corridors.
Cork University Hospital, which transferred some of its patients to nearby Mater Private Hospital, was among the worst hit, with 45 people on trolleys yesterday morning.
St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin was struggling with 22 trolleys and doctors in Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown were hunting for beds for 20 of their patients yesterday morning.
Many hospitals wer e plunged into even more difficulty by the arrival of a new crop of junior doctors, who change posts every six months and are struggling in unfamiliar surroundings.
It is expected that some 3,000 patients on waiting lists will have their planned surgery put on hold or cancelled this month to free up beds.
Dr John Duddy, a trainee neurosurgeon at Cork University Hospital, said all planned emergency operations had been parked for the last two weeks.
It meant that patients who could have been waiting a year with a spinal condition have had to stay in the queue.
Doctors have warned that some seriously ill patients have also had their surgery put back and are ending up in A&E because of their condition.
Health Minister Simon Harris promised more beds in the coming weeks.