Winter flu virus is here, it's official

The first cases this year of the winter influenza virus have been confirmed in Ireland, has learned this evening.

It is the first year that a national advance reporting system has been in place to identify the flu virus early and provide a picture of the spread around the country.

According to the Virus Reference Laboratory at University College Dublin, two cases of influenza have been confirmed through high-tech testing. Around 12 cases of influenza-like virus are being examined.

Family doctors at around 20 sites around the country and the health boards have been monitoring the emergence of the virus this year. The news follows reports from doctors and health boards of serious vaccine shortages for those at risk. The Department of Health said that it had ordered another 25,000 doses of influenza vaccine and this batch should be available by the end of November.

"The demand for the flu vaccine was underestimated by the health authorities," the President of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Liam Lynch said this evening. "Part of the problem has also been the large pick up of vaccination by industry to ensure workers are not affected, as so dramatically occurred last year. There are still major supply problems".

Samples from patients suspected of having the virus are being sent by doctors to the UCD laboratory for testing. The Virus Reference Laboratory has confirmed that two samples tested positive last month. According to the laboratory, the influenza virus types identified this year are covered by the on-going national vaccination campaign.

Professor William Hall of the Virus Reference Laboratory told that it was "too early" to predict how widespread the flu virus would be in Ireland this winter. "This is the first year we have had an official national surveillance system and so it is also difficult to compare with previous years."

The confirmation of influenza in Ireland follows reports of a shortage of the influenza vaccine. The shortage is part of a world-wide problem, according to experts.

The Department of Health launched its national influenza vaccination programme on September 13. It ordered over 400,000 doses for the campaign. "In the light of the high level of demand experienced this year, a further 25,000 doses have been ordered", the Department said.

Those most at risk are people aged over 65 years and young people with diabetes, suppressed immune systems or chronic conditions affecting the heart, kidneys or lungs. The vaccination is free to those at risk.

Last year around only around half of those at risk were vaccinated. The vaccination lasts for around a year and so annual vaccination is recommended by doctors.


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Anonymous - 26/10/2007 17:09

Is the country getting value for money by buying 400,000 doses. Is this costing to much each year ? It is easy money for doctors to bill the HSE for treating 400.000 patients.

Kevin - 30/10/2007 08:53

Well considering that the perople who are being targeted are those who will be seriously effected by the flu requiring hospital stays and possibly dying as a result I think it is money well spent. The real flu as opposed to the flu you hear people talking about are two separate things. The reall flu is a serious ilness that you will not be able to work through and will require medical attention. The other is a bad cold.

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