The rate of flu consultations across the North has continued to rise and is higher than the last several years but well below the peak experienced during the swine flu winters of almost ten years ago.
Between January 1 and January 7 the number of GP consultations for people with flu-like symptoms more than doubled from 22.7 per 100,000 population in week 52, 2017 to 52.6 per 100, 000 population.
Flu is now circulating at a moderate level, according to the Public Health Agency (PHA), which has confirmed that the GP consultation rate across the North is higher than rates for similar periods in the last number of years.
However, it remains well below the peak rate of 113.9 per 100,000 in 2010/11 when the A(H1N1) - swine flu - strain was circulating.
The number of positive influenza laboratory detections also increased from 177 in week 52, 2017 to 264 in week 1, 2018.
At this point in the season there have been a total of 231 detections of influenza A(H3), 185 of influenza B, 297 of influenza A (typing awaited), and 2 detections of influenza A(H1N1) 2009, said the agency.
There was also a hike in influenza cases emanating from hospital wards with detections up from 143 in the last week of 2017, to 176 in the first week of 2018.
Fifteen cases were reported in Intensive Care Units (ICU).
One death was reported among ICU patients bringing the total deaths in intensive care facilities this winter to four.
There have were also ten confirmed influenza outbreaks in care homes during the week with a further nine suspected.
Dr. Lucy Jessop, Consultant at the PHA, said: “Washing your hands regularly will help prevent flu and other winter viruses spreading.
“If you do become unwell with flu or flu-like symptoms, you should stay at home – most cases of flu are likely to be mild and can be managed at home with over-the-counter remedies. For most people it will have resolved within a week, if not you should speak to your GP.
"Those in at-risk groups, may be more susceptible to serious illness and you should contact your GP earlier if you have a high temperature or shortness of breath for advice.
“It is also important to remember that a course of antibiotics won’t sort out your cold or flu. Cold and flu are viruses and antibiotics are useless against them.
“Viral infections are very common and as well as cold and flu they can include many infections of the nose, sinuses, ears, throat and chest. Most of these can be self-treated without the need for a visit to the doctor, and with no need for an antibiotic.”
Dr. Jessop also encouraged people who haven't already done so to avail of the flu vaccine.
“Getting the free flu vaccine is the single most important thing you can do to help protect yourself against flu.
“Everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated against flu should see it as a positive step in protecting their health and the health of others around them.”
The flu vaccination programme is part of the wider ‘Stay Well this Winter’ programme operated by the Public Health Agency and the Health and Social Care Board which enables people to take simple steps during the colder months to look after their health.
Dr Jessop concluded: “Our health service is under tremendous pressure, so by taking steps to help prevent the spread of winter viruses and being sensible in treating them, we can all help reduce the burden on hospitals and our GPs, enabling them to help those who really need medical support.”
For further information on how to help yourself stay well this winter visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/stay-well