Influenza is commonly known as seasonal flu. It is highly contagious and is caused by a flu virus. It is extremely common and tends to attack during the winter from October to April in Ireland and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. While the number of adults who present with flu like symptoms at their GP in Ireland varies widely year on year, the HSE estimates it to be between 50 and 200 for every 100,000 people. This only accounts for people who actually present and attend their GP and does not take into account the many others who may not visit their GP.
The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre estimates that over the past 8 flu seasons, between 200 to 500 people died each year due to flu related illness. Up to 1000 people can die in a very severe flu season and there are certain groups who are most at risk.
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Influenza vaccination is the most effective way to limit exposure and there are high risk groups who the HSE recommends vaccination to on an annually in Ireland. These include:
However, there are a limited number of people who should not get the seasonal flu vaccine. The vaccine should not be given to anyone with a history of severe allergic reaction (otherwise known as anaphylaxis) to a prior dose of the vaccine or any of the components found in the vaccine. Anyone with an egg allergy should check with their pharmacist or GP regarding the administering of the seasonal flu vaccine.
The signs and symptoms of potential influenza are many and varied. Some of the most common symptoms include the following
Influenza vaccination is the most effective way to prevent an infection and prevents the flu in 70% to 90% of people. While anti-viral drugs are available, the influenza virus can develop resistance. It can take anywhere between 10 to 14 days for the vaccine to begin protecting against influenza so it is best to get it done early if you are among those in a high risk group. The vaccine is free for those in a high risk group and if a person is 18 years of age or older, they can receive their vaccine at their pharmacist or GP. Anyone under 18 should attend their family GP.
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Sides affect are mild and will pass within a few days of receiving the vaccine. The most common examples of side effects might include soreness, redness or swelling where the vaccination was injected, aches, fever, tiredness and headaches. A small number of people might experience mild sweating and shivering because their immune system is responding to the vaccine. All of the symptoms are mild and generally soon pass. In very rare circumstances a more severe reaction may occur – Anaphylaxis – but your pharmacist or GP are trained and equipped to to deal with this very unlikely event.
56.9% of people aged 65 years and older who hold a GP visit card or a medical card, received the flu vaccination during the 2012 to 2013 influenza season in Ireland. This is of growing concern because it is almost 20% less than the World Health Organisation target of 75% vaccination for this high risk group.
Every year, the world’s leading epidemiologists study the movement of flu virus across the world and monitor the strains which pose the highest risks. The three most common viruses are then targeted by the vaccine which becomes available in September/October annually.
The type A seasonal influenza viruses are classified into subtypes. There are two particular subtypes that are currently circulating in the human population. These are A (H1N1) and A (H3N2). One type B virus is also included in the vaccine for 2014/15. Type C influenza virus occurs much less frequently and it is not typically included in seasonal influenza vaccines unless it is known to be circulating.
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Anywhere between 250,000 to 500,000 million deaths occur from annual influenza epidemics each year. In addition, an estimated 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness occurs from global epidemics. Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection and it is highly contagious spreading from person to person very easily. Prevention is always better than cure and that is why vaccination is highly recommended for high risk groups.
While anti-viral drugs are used to treat influenza they do need to be given within 48 hours of symptoms occurring to take hold. Some stains of the influenza virus have already developed resistance to anti-viral drugs which has an impact on treatment of the condition for the patient.