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Concern We may have avoided 'twindemic' of Covid and flu, but old enemy could return, experts warn

One flu death has been reported this winter, eight people were hospitalised and 43 cases have been confirmed

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Leading flu expert at the ECDC, Pasi Penttinen

Leading flu expert at the ECDC, Pasi Penttinen

Leading flu expert at the ECDC, Pasi Penttinen

Should we still be worried about a serious flu outbreak?

Flu made a comeback this winter after lying low since the start of the pandemic.

No lockdown, plus less immunity after last winter's near disappearance of flu, played a role.

But it has so far failed to pose the much feared "twindemic" threat by circulating at high levels with Covid-19.

However, some experts warn it could take more of a hold if restrictions are eased and we are mixing more.

It has remained low here in the first week of January, traditionally the worst month for the seasonal virus.

One flu death has been reported this winter, eight people were hospitalised and 43 cases have been confirmed.

Once again Covid-19 measures like physical distancing and mask-wearing have helped curb the spread of flu.

The uptake of the flu vaccine here this winter has also been high.

However, it is still not time to let our guard down around flu, according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).

And the proposed easing of some Covid-19 restrictions in this country could have an impact on flu also.

The ECDC's leading expert on flu, Pasi Penttinen, told Reuters: "If we start to lift all measures, the big concern I have for influenza is that, because we have had such a long time of almost no circulation in the European population, maybe we will shift away from normal seasonal patterns."

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He suggested that scaling down restrictive Covid-19 measures this spring could prolong the circulation of flu far beyond May, the normal end of the season.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in Dublin, in the first week of January six cases of flu were notified.

"In the European region flu activity continued to increase and is predominantly associated with (the) A(H3) strain," it said.

It added: "The ECDC has declared that the flu pandemic in Europe has started for the 2021-2022 season."

However, the number of patients with flu admitted to intensive care units in Europe more than halved to 19 between January 3 and 9, down from the late December peak.

It is still well down on pre-Covid-19 levels when as many as 400 patients could be seriously ill with the virus.

The A(H3) strain, which can particularly impact older people, is also posing concern.

The ECDC said this year laboratory tests show vaccines are not going to be optimal against this strain.

When the vaccine make-up was drawn up in early 2021 the lack of flu in 2020 meant there was no clear picture of what strain would predominate this winter.

Meanwhile, the spike in respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, which led to children's hospitals here being swamped and many elective operations being cancelled as early as October, has now abated.

Some 45 RSV cases were reported in the first week of January, more than a third in children aged under four with in excess of a quarter in people over 65 years of age.

The HPSC said the average flu vaccine uptake nationally in those aged 65 years and older attending GP clinics and pharmacies for vaccination was 70.5pc during the period from September 2020 to August 2021.

"This represents a substantial increase from the 2019/2020 season," it said.

"The uptake is still below the recommended vaccine coverage for all EU member states (75pc)."

It said that due to providing free flu vaccine for all people in clinical, occupational or age risk groups for the duration of the 2020-2021 season, the interpretation of trends is quite challenging.

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