Three die as flu virus claims first victims of the winter season
Flu has claimed its first victims this winter, with three deaths from the virus.
It comes as the HSE reported the potentially fatal winter illness is now "actively circulating in the community".
All of the deaths so far have been those aged 65 and older, according to disease watchdog the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
During last week, there were two deaths from flu, with 143 patients hospitalised.
The winter flu season has begun at least four to five weeks earlier than normal.
HPSC head Dr John Cuddihy said the influenza illness rate for the week ending December 8 was 37.5 cases per 100,000 of the population, which is above the baseline threshold of 18.1 cases per 100,000.
This signals that flu is circulating widely, and 'at risk' groups are again reminded to get the seasonal jab.
Hospitalisations with flu were highest in children under five and those aged 65 and older.
The wet weather over recent weeks is believed to have contributed to the spread of the virus as more people congregate indoors, increasing the chance of it being passed on.
The east of the country is most affected and the midlands has so far escaped the worst.
"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," Dr Cuddihy said.
"The flu vaccine is a safe and effective prevention measure against flu and it is provided free of charge for people in 'at risk' groups.
"These include everyone aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, anyone over six months of age with a long-term illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes, cancer or those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment.
"The vaccine is also recommended for all healthcare workers to protect themselves and those they care for."
Dr Cuddihy said 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 'at risk' groups who develops flu symptoms - or anyone who is not in an 'at risk' group but whose flu symptoms are severe or getting worse - should contact their GP.