Monday 19 March 2018

Deadly winter flu virus now starting to ease

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

The flu epidemic - which has so far claimed 92 lives this winter - is on the wane.

The virus has infected more people than last year, sent twice as many to hospital and three times as many to intensive care.

However, it has not been as severe as some years, said Dr Cillan de Gascun, the director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

GP consultations for flu-like illness fell last week to 65.7 per 100,000 population from 72.3 per 100,000 in the previous week.

Those worst affected were children, young teenagers and people over 65.

There have been 129 confirmed flu cases admitted to critical care units so far this season.

Some 11 outbreaks were reported last week.

Influenza B and influenza A (H3N2) are the main flu viruses circulating.

The HSE said: "Influenza vaccine is available free of charge from GPs for all people in at-risk groups, and from pharmacists for everyone in at-risk groups aged 18 years and over.

"An administration charge may apply to people who do not hold medical cards or GP visit cards."

Hospitals battling the trolley crisis are being put under even more pressure by the flu outbreak. This is bad news for Health Minister Simon Harris who has seen little respite in overcrowding since the beginning of the year.


The flu epidemic is exacerbated by the high rate of other respiratory infections, which pose a risk to all age groups.

Nearly one in five patients diagnosed with flu have another respiratory virus.

Dublin hospitals have been particularly hit by the rise in waiting lists for public patients, which now stand at a record 694,000.

Mr Harris said he hoped the allocation this year of €55m to buy more treatments and surgery will reduce the lists.

"Reducing waiting times for the longest waiting patients is one the Government's key priorities," he said.

"October's Budget announced a total allocation of €55m for the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) for 2018.

"This significant increase in funding more than doubles the 2017 total allocation of €20m.

"The NTPF and HSE are in the process of finalising waiting list action plans and initiatives for 2018," he said.

Mr Harris will publish the plans at the end of the month.

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