Flu rates in Northern Ireland have been low so far this winter, but the number of cases has increased slightly in the last 1-2 weeks which may be an early sign of the start of flu season. The Public Health Agency, PHA, is therefore urging all those in ‘at-risk’ groups to make sure they are vaccinated.
The latest figures from the PHA show that people consulting their GP with flu or flu like illness (FLI) increased from 16.9 per 100,000 of the population in week four of 2012 to 25.9 per 100,000 in week six.
Whilst these figures remain low and are much lower than last year’s peak of 263.5 per 100,000, the fact that they are increasing could mean the start of this year’s flu season.
Laboratories are now detecting more flu which also suggests that flu viruses are starting to circulate. The flu strains that have been identified are all covered by this year’s flu jab and the PHA is continuing to urge ‘at-risk’ groups, and especially newly pregnant women, to get vaccinated before flu levels increase further.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: We have seen a small rise in the number of seasonal flu cases. Receiving the seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting the virus. So, if you are in an ‘at-risk’ group, get the vaccine now – it’s still not too late.
“The flu vaccine campaign has been a great success this year with very high uptake rates, but there are still some people who have not been vaccinated and we would urge them to get the vaccine now. In particular, women who have become pregnant recently and may not have had the vaccine, should get the flu jab as soon as possible.”
Pregnant women have responded extremely well to the PHA’s seasonal flu vaccination programme with over 57% having the vaccine by the end of December – exceeding the target set by the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety of 40%.
Dr Smithson added: “I’m pleased to see so many women protecting themselves and their unborn babies as nearly 60% have already been vaccinated. However, I would encourage those who haven’t and are still thinking about it, to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Also, if you have just found out you are pregnant, make an appointment with your GP to get the free jab.
“We know that flu can have serious consequences for both a pregnant mother and her baby. However, there is a wealth of evidence to show that the vaccine is safe and effective at all stages of pregnancy and that it also protects both the mother and her baby for the first few months after birth – a particularly vulnerable time.
“We are delighted with how well the vaccination programme has gone so far, but we can’t afford to be complacent. It’s great to see the public taking such a positive role in protecting their own health.”
The earlier you get vaccinated the better as it takes the body about 10–14 days after the jab to develop antibodies. These will then protect you against the same or similar viruses if the body is exposed to them. The vaccine contains three strains of the flu virus, which are considered the most likely to be circulating this winter, including the H1N1 (swine flu) virus.
For more information on seasonal flu, go to www.fluawareni.info and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 90553663.
Notes to the editor
At risk groups for flu include the following:
- Anyone aged 65 or over, even if they feel fit and healthy at the moment.
- Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy).
- Children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
- a chronic chest condition such as asthma;
- a chronic heart condition;
- chronic kidney disease;
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy;
- a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy;
- any other serious medical condition – check with your doctor if you are unsure.
- Children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection.
- Children attending schools for those with severe learning difficulties.
- Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
- Main carers for elderly or disabled people.