Health officials have urged people to get vaccinated following a number of deaths in Ireland which have been linked to “Australian flu”.
The Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) said a “small number” of people had died in the last fortnight after contracting the H3N2 strain, which was blamed for one of Australia’s worst ever flu outbreaks last year.
Around 170,000 influenza cases were reported during Australia’s winter season, with more than 370 deaths
Public Health England and the Irish HSE have now urged people at higher risk of flu – including the elderly, pregnant women and children with chronic illness – to get vaccinated.
Dr Kevin Kelleher, director of the HSE’s health protection surveillance centre, said: “The HSE has in the last fortnight been notified of a small number of deaths directly related to influenza (less than 10).
“These indicators tell us that flu is actively starting to circulate in the community, yet it’s not too late for people at risk to get the vaccine from their GP or pharmacist.
“Prevention is better than cure, and the increase in flu activity means it is even more important to get your flu jab if you are in an at-risk group.”
UFC fighter Conor McGregor reportedly cancelled his New Year’s Eve party after he was struck down by “Australian flu”.
In a now removed Instagram post, the Irish sports star said he was “left shaking in bed” for two days and that some of his family members had been admitted to hospital because of the virus.
It comes after figures for England and Wales revealed the number of recorded flu cases more than doubled in the week before Christmas.
Some 1,111 cases were reported in the week up to 24 December 2017, compared with 434 cases in the previous seven days.
A Public Health England spokeswoman said: “The current flu vaccine is still the best defence we have against the virus. We therefore encourage all those who are eligible to take up the offer of the vaccine.
“There are a number of ways to limit the spread of flu. These include carrying tissues and use them to catch coughs or sneezes, then to bin the tissues, washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water and frequently cleaning surfaces like computer keyboards, telephones and other regularly used objects.
“Avoid having unnecessary contact with other people if you or they are presenting symptoms of flu.
“These symptoms include coughs, runny nose, fever, sore throat, fatigue, aches and pains.
“Anyone concerned about their symptoms should stay at home and contact their GP, or call NHS 111, to seek further advice.”
The latest advice comes after a leading doctor warned that pressures on the NHS “escalated rapidly” over the festive period, with hospitals experiencing significant bed shortages.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said many hospitals reported more than 99% capacity in the week before Christmas.
“We are on the cusp of a major issue at least as bad as last year, when it was described by the Red Cross as a humanitarian crisis,” Dr Scriven said.