An expected rise in winter virus infections in the coming weeks is likely to put the health service under “the highest pressure” it has ever experienced, the HSE said.
In a statement Thursday night, he said forecasts suggest “we could see more than 900 hospitalized flu patients in the first week of January and that number is likely to continue to rise” as the month progresses.
“Regarding Covid-19 and other respiratory viruses, we are now seeing a higher number of hospitalized cases this winter than anticipated in our most pessimistic projections,” he said.
There were 656 people in the hospital with Covid-19 on Thursday morning, an increase of 30 from the previous day. The number of patients with the disease in intensive care has more than doubled in three days to 26. Some 1,200 people with respiratory conditions are currently in hospital, the HSE said.
A National Crisis Management Team has been set up to oversee the response and HSE chief executive Stephen Mulvany said “services across the country have developed and are implementing plans to deal with the coming pressure.”
“It now seems increasingly likely that we will see the demand for health services increase well above anything we have seen before,” he said. “We are working to ensure that all available resources are mobilized and used to respond to the needs of our patients seeking urgent and emergency care.”
The HSE expects the rise in respiratory illnesses to “severely impact” hospitals and emergency departments and “put primary care services such as GP and after-hours services under further pressure.” He urged people who are eligible and who must get vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.
It was previously reported that the number of invasive strep A cases had doubled this year compared to last, leading to seven deaths, including four among children in the space of three months. While cases have risen in recent weeks, public health officials say the overall numbers are very similar to the years before the Covid-19 pandemic.
So far this year, 73 cases of invasive group A strep (iGAS) have been reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Center (HPSC). Nineteen were in children under the age of 10, compared to 22 for the same period in 2019.
More than half of this year’s cases (39) have been reported since early October, according to the HPSC, including nine in children younger than 10. Since then, there have been four deaths in children, three among children under 10 years of age and one of a child between the ages of 10 and 18.
One of the four children was Saoirse O’Sullivan, a fourth class pupil at Scoil Naomh Iosaf in Riverstown, Glanmire, Co Cork, who died on Monday. In Northern Ireland, Stella-Lily McCorkindale (5) died earlier this month after being admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital with a strep A infection.
Group A strep is a common bacterium that many people carry harmlessly in their throats and on their skin. However, it can cause a serious infection. The most dangerous form occurs when it becomes invasive, such as when it enters the lungs or bloodstream. In rare cases, iGAS infections can be fatal.
A common presentation of strep A in children can be scarlet fever, which causes symptoms such as fever, a raised rash that can feel rough to the touch like sandpaper, sore throat, and swollen tongue. The first signs of scarlet fever may be flu-like symptoms, including high fever, sore throat, and swollen glands in the neck. A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later, first on the chest and stomach and then spreads.
The HPSC said there is no evidence that a new strain of iGAS is circulating and that the increase in cases is likely related to large numbers of circulating bacteria and a return to more normal patterns of social mixing after the pandemic.
“The pattern and trends of iGAS cases are slightly different this year and the situation is being closely monitored,” an HSE spokesperson said. “In general, the number of deaths from iGAS, including pediatric deaths, is very small and the current situation is not appreciably different from the years before the pandemic. This is not out of what we would expect.”
Separately, four people have died this year from meningococcal disease, the HPSC said. A total of 27 cases have been reported so far this year, compared with 71 in the same period before the pandemic in 2019. Six of the cases were reported in December, but the HPSC said it was not an outbreak. .
“Meningococcal disease is known to have a higher incidence in the winter and early spring. Among the 27 cases, different age groups were affected in different parts of the country. When known, the strain type is serogroup B. No links have been found between the cases.”