Officials reveal 185 people here hit by strain of bug linked to Aussie Flu
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has confirmed that there have been 185 cases of the flu group that includes the so-called 'Aussie Flu' strain in Northern Ireland.
The cases, which occurred between the start of the flu season in October and December 31, were traced to the AH3 flu group, of which H3N2 is one strain.
At the end of last year there had been three deaths due to flu and 16 cases of flu requiring admissions to an intensive care unit.
It has not been revealed which strains caused the deaths, and the PHA stated that "no excess mortality" had been observed.
The H3N2 virus has been dubbed Aussie Flu, as it is the same strain that fuelled the worst flu crisis in Australia for two decades.
The particular strain of H3N2 flu that is affecting the UK is similar to the type that Australians suffered during their last winter.
In 2017 more than 217,000 Australians had confirmed cases of the virus - double the previous record of just over 100,000 in 2015.
However, in this month's flu surveillance bulletin, the PHA said that flu activity here had "not even crossed the line" of the "pre-epidemic threshold", and that this year's season had shown "low flu activity to date".
It added that A H3N2 was "not a new strain of flu", and that it had been the predominant strain during last year's flu season.
The PHA bulletin added: "It is important that the public does not become complacent and miss getting their vaccine if they are eligible.
"High uptake of the vaccine is required to help protect individuals and those in the community that are more vulnerable to the serious complications of flu.
"While it is difficult to predict the course of flu seasons and the likely severity, our comprehensive flu programme, good levels of vaccine uptake and more extensive vaccination programme for children mean levels of immunity in the population in Northern Ireland should be higher than elsewhere.
"It takes approximately two weeks following vaccination to develop maximum protection against flu.
"As flu levels have been increasing, it is important to get vaccinated immediately."
Alluding to the situation in Australia, the PHA added: "A (H3N2) and the other flu strains currently circulating are seasonal flu viruses that have occurred in previous years during the winter months in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
"Last year (2017), seasonal flu activity in Australia was the highest seen since 2009 (the pandemic year).
"More people had flu, with more attending primary care and requiring hospitalisation than in previous years.
"Flu can be serious every year, but in Australia, while flu prevalence increased, there were no more serious complications of flu seen than in previous years.
"In the past few weeks there has been an increase in flu activity in Northern Ireland.
"This increase is anticipated, but has occurred a couple of weeks earlier than last year.
"Activity here is similar to the rest of the UK, Ireland and the other Northern Hemisphere countries."