As part of a nationwide drive to improve vaccination rates in at-risk groups – such as older people, healthcare workers and pregnant women – the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), which is responsible for public health, began a number of media interviews on Friday (18 February) to raise awareness of the outbreak.
The rate of transmission remains relatively low but authorities say there is a risk that the flu is reaching a point where it will spread quickly if immunisation rates are not increased.
Dr Joan O’Donnell of the HPSC told Morning Ireland, the flagship breakfast-time radio show, that the peak in the flu season has come later this year than in the past, adding that it is not too late to be immunised.
Uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine has been strong this year in the over 65 age group and it is free for people in risk groups, according to Irish authorities. However, the HPSC said there are still thousands of people eligible for free immunisation who have yet to be vaccinated.
The number of reported cases of flu-like illnesses in Ireland rose from 15.7 per 100,000 to 26.2 per 100,000 during the second week in February, taking it above the “threshold level” which means the flu is now actively circulating in the community.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned earlier this month that the number of new flu cases has been creeping upwards across Europe.
However, figures from January suggest Ireland had been having a relatively mild flu season compared to Spain, Italy, Bulgaria and Iceland.
While the upswing in new cases in Ireland is dramatic, the actual number of cases is still dwarfed by the likes of Italy which recorded 627 cases per 100,000 during the third week in January.
See our for more on the immunisation schedule in your country