A "constellation” of viruses is circulating in the country this winter, the chief medical officer has warned as she urged vulnerable people to get vaccinated against the flu and Covid-19.
Flu notifications sent to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre are on the rise, Prof Breda Smyth told a health briefing today, prompting fears this could signal the start of a significant flu wave.
“In the last week we saw a 16% increase in the number of flu cases notified, and an increase in 5% of the number of hospitalisations notified,” she said.
“We have been seeing a slow but gradual increase in flu cases over the previous four to six weeks. The wave of flu infections appears to be taking off across Europe and internationally,” she said.
“It has been established by the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) that we are now in flu season. It is of concern that we would see a rapid upswing like we have seen previously.”
“With flu, I would be urging all those who are not currently vaccinated to come forward to get their vaccination,” she said.
“We have a constellation of viruses, respiratory viruses, currently circulating within our population,” she said.
“We are currently seeing a gradual increase but a very slow increase in Covid cases,” she said.
“It has been quite stable but it is still circulating. I would urge anyone that has yet to come forward for their adapted booster or their winter booster that they would do so.”
There are currently 349 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, a slight rise from last week. This includes 10 patients being treated in ICU, according to government data.
Meanwhile, Professor Smyth said there are signs that the extremely high rate of RSV infection among children — which can cause severe illness — may have peaked for this season.
“We have seen a significant wave of RSV infection within our population, particularly our young children.”
The latest data shows that there were 607 RSV cases last week, compared to 734 cases the previous week.
“Our hospitalisations have reduced by 24% so we think we might have seen the peak of what has been a very significant wave,” she said.
“We know that over 50% of them are in children less than five years of age, with the majority of them children less than one year of age.”
RSV is a virus so it is not treatable by antibiotics, and she urged parents to be aware of signs of infection — particularly among very small babies.
Thepreviously highlighted the case of an eight-week-old baby who had to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) in CHI at Crumlin for RSV treatment. She has since recovered.
Prof Smyth urged people to continue taking precautions to limit the spread of viruses such as RSV, including hand-washing. Staying at home when people have symptoms of any infectious is particularly important over the Christmas period, she said, when people are mixing with older people and other vulnerable people.
“It is really important that we try and protect ourselves, and everyone in our social circles from these respiratory viruses,” she said.
“There are three circulating at the moment, and all three can give rise to hospitalisations and significant illness.”