Northern Ireland news

Flu vaccine uptake falls among over 65s

The drop comes amid concerns over swine flu in Ireland

UPTAKE of the flu vaccine among the vulnerable 'over 65 years' population has fallen drastically to just half the group, according to the Public Health Agency (PHA).

Latest figures show that while 66.8 per cent of those aged over 65 in Northern Ireland were vaccinated in 2017/18, just 52 per cent received the jab this year.

The fall in numbers comes as the Republic's Health Service Executive has warned that the virulent H1N1 flu strain – also known as swine flu – is in Ireland and could become a potentially serious public health issue for those aged under 65.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director for public health, told RTÉ a number of people – including those in their twenties, thirties and forties – have been admitted to hospital intensive care units and "at least two, and possibly four" people have died.

He said the flu strain circulating is particularly serious for people under 65 with a pre-existing disease and pregnant women, causing chest problems which can bring on pneumonia.

So far this season, in the north there have been 16 admissions to hospital intensive care units with confirmed influenza and two deaths reported in patients who had laboratory confirmed influenza.

GP consultation rates for flu and flu-like illness during the last fortnight of 2018 were 8.9 and nine per 100,000 population respectively.

The PHA reports "activity remains well below the baseline" for Northern Ireland, even among those aged 45-64 who posted the highest consultation rate during that period (between 12.7 and 13.2 per cent).

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