Influenza (commonly referred to as 'flu') is a respiratory illness associated with infection by influenza virus. The symptoms of infection commonly include: a headache, fever, cough, sore throat and myalgia (aching muscles and joints) and can result in severe illness for certain people who are ‘at risk’, including the elderly and those with certain medical conditions.
Those defined as ‘at risk’ include:
- pregnant women in all stages/any trimester of pregnancy
- anyone aged over 65 years, even if they feel fit and healthy at the moment
- children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
- a chronic chest condition such as asthma
- a chronic heart condition
- chronic liver disease
- chronic kidney disease
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy (people living in the same house as someone with lowered immunity may also need to be vaccinated)
- a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy, or hereditary and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system or muscles
- 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 children with severe learning difficulties
- anyone living in a residential or nursing home
- main carers for elderly or disabled people
People defined as being ‘at risk’ are eligible and encouraged to receive the flu vaccination free of charge on the NHS through their local GP practice. Furthermore, this year the flu vaccination is being offered to all children aged 2-3 years old and children in Primary 6.
For further information on seasonal flu see www.fluawareni.info. This site provides a comprehensive guide to flu, including information for the public on who is most at risk, who needs a seasonal flu vaccine, how to get the vaccine and what to do if you think you have the flu, as well as information on prevention of further infection.
Influenza Surveillance data is collected all year round by the Public Health Agency in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Regional Virus Laboratory, local GP practices, and a number of other relevant local agencies who kindly provide data to the influenza surveillance department.
The earliest occurrence of seasonal influenza varies from year to year; but most often occurs during the winter months - usually beginning in October or November, and peaking between December and March. During the ‘flu season the PHA publishes a regular ‘flu bulletin outlining the season so far, including GP consultation rates and information on the circulating virus.