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Swine flu jab plea after 150 new cases are reported in Northern Ireland

By Victoria O'Hara

Health officials have warned vulnerable people to get vaccinated again swine flu after almost 150 cases were reported in Northern Ireland during the last four weeks.

In 2009 an outbreak of swine flu killed almost 30 people here.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said that during the last month, 187 flu cases have been reported, of which 80% were the H1N1 strain - swine flu.

Official figures show the number of GP consultations for flu has increased but the number of positive cases dropped slightly during the last week in January.

The flu can be dangerous for vulnerable people and those with underlying conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, or serious kidney disease.

The vaccine, however, can protect against several strains of seasonal flu, including H1N1 swine flu.

A PHA spokesman said flu activity has remained "largely stable" over the past four weeks.

"So far this year there have been fewer people reporting flu-like illness in primary care than during the same period in 2014/15, but more than in 2013/14," the spokesman said.

"Since 2009, influenza H1N1 virus has become one of the common seasonal influenza viruses in circulation in Northern Ireland, the UK and around the world.

"Protection against influenza H1N1 is cont0ained within the seasonal flu vaccine that is offered free to over-65s, pre-school children aged between two and four years old, all primary school-aged children and individuals in "at risk" groups, such as pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions like asthma or heart conditions."

Last week, a child died of swine flu in the Republic of Ireland.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) said the child, who was not from the Dublin area, passed away in a Dublin hospital.

The HSE said cases of flu were continuing to rise and were expected to do so for one to two more weeks.

The majority of those who died from swine flu in 2009 in Northern Ireland had underlying health issues.

Many more people were struck down by the virus, but recovered from it.

The PHA, meanwhile, have advised eligible people who are in their 70s to have the free shingles vaccination.

The virus can remain inactive in the nervous system for decades, with the body's immune system keeping it in check, but later in life it can flare up again and emerge as shingles.

Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: "It is estimated that the vaccination programme will prevent nearly 40% of the hundreds of cases seen every year in Northern Ireland in people over 70 and reduce the severity of the symptoms for those who do develop the condition."

Belfast Telegraph


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