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Four more deaths in flu epidemic
[Posted: Thu 20/01/2011 by Niall Hunter, Editor www.irishhealth.com]
The level of flu in the community has dropped slightly, although the number of flu deaths has increased, with four deaths in the past week, according to the HSE.
The HSE confirmed that one of the deaths to date in the flu epidemic has been in a patient who did not have an underlying condition.
The health executive, at its latest flu epidemic briefing, said the latest reported flu rate was 173 per 100,000 population, compared to last week's corrected rate of 200.8 - over 7,700 new cases were diagnosed in the past week.
It said while there were signs that the current flu outbreak, which has claimed six lives, was levelling off, it was too early to predict for certain whether or not the peak of flu activity had yet been reached.
Of the six deaths reported in total to date, five were due to the H1N1 virus and was one due to the influenza B virus.
One death had occurred in the 0-4 age group, two in the 15-64 age group and three in people over 65.
The HSE said the people who died were from different area around the country, but declined to provide any further age or geographic details about individual deaths at this stage.
The health executive did not reveal the age group of the patient who died from the flu but did not have an underlying condition and defended its policy of giving limited information about flu deaths.
Two women and four men have died to date.
Dr Kevin Kelleher said the number of reported deaths was likely to rise further, but this was not due to flu trends changing but to a lag time in reporting of deaths from flu.
He said the methods of reporting deaths here differed from Northern Ireland, where a greater number of flu deaths have been reported to date.
Dr Kelleher said the flu epidemic in the north started earlier than in the Republic. He also pointed out that the reported death rates in the north in the previous swine flu pandemic were proportionately higher than in the Republic.
He said while the overall rate of flu in the current outbreak had now decreased, flu rates in children had increased.
The predominant flu strain this season is H1N1, with a smaller prevalence of influenza B, and the current seasonal flu vaccine protects against both.
Dr Darina O'Flanagan of the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said while the overall rates were down, flu rates increased in the 0-4 and 5-14 age groups, with the current rate for under fours standing at 213 per 100,000 and at 151.8 in the 5-14 age group.
She said the peak flu rates being seen in children now are very much lower than the peak rates recorded during last year's pandemic.
Dr O'Flanagan said there had been a dramatic reduction in the number of positive flu lab samples last week and that would be a good indicator that flu activity was beginning to decline.
"While we can't guarantee it, we think we are very near turning the corner on this."
There were 22 more hospital admissions for influenza last week and 49 patients are currently in ICUs.
The HSE said the hospital system as a whole was coping with demands placed on it by the flu, although there were occasional problems, and extra ICU beds had been opened.
Dr Brenda Corcoran of the HSE said it was now recommended that all pregnant women should get the current flu vaccine, including women who had previously had swine flu vaccine either last year, or this year when there had been a temporary shortage of the new seasonal flu vaccine.
Dr Corcoran said it was known already that pregnant women were at risk of complications of swine flu, but women were also at risk of complications from the B strain of flu, which the new seasonal vaccine protects against, and that was the primary reason why the recommendation on vaccination of pregnant women was changed.
Previously, pregnant women were advised to get the new seasonal flu vaccine, but were also told that this was not necessary if they had already received the H1N1 vaccine, which does not protect against influenza B.
She said there were no plans to extend the current flu vaccination to the general child population, and it currently only applied to children in at-risk groups. Dr Corcoran said many children already had immunity to the H1N1 virus thanks to having already been vaccinated or having already had swine flu.
Dr Corcoran said following a temporary shortage of the new seasonal vaccine, an additional 89,000 of these vaccines had now been received and were being distributed to GPs and hospitals. She said therefore, no GP should be short of seasonal flu vaccine.
Dr Kelleher said people in at-risk groups needed to get the vaccine, including all pregnant women.
Dr O'Flanagan said as there had been a small number of deaths to date, the HSE had decided not to give too much detail on the deaths at this stage.
Dr Kelleher said at a later stage, when there may have been more deaths, more information may be available on the statistical breakdown of the deaths as when there were greater numbers, it would be more difficult to identify individuals.
He said if at this stage three of four additional facts were given about any single death, victims could possibly be identified.
Dr Kelleher claimed that if individual deaths were broken down into age, sex and county, it would be relatively easy to identify the person concerned. He said the HSE did not wish to cause any further distress to the families.
He said sufficient information was currently being provided about the deaths.
The HSE has said the flu deaths to date have taken place in the east, north-west, north-east and south-east.
View more information about the current flu epidemic on the HSE website
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