To prevent absenteeism, Donegal GP Dr James McDaid advised that schools may have to remain closed after the Christmas break

Dr James McDaid.

Dr James McDaid

Donegal GP Dr James McDaid has issued a warning about the flu virus and said that schools should remain closed after the Christmas break to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic.

The number of reported flu cases have doubled in the past week, according to the HSE. People are being urged to stay away from hospitals if they have the flu as the trolley crisis pushes hospitals to breaking point. Medical professionals warn that the influenza outbreak has yet to reach its peak.

Former minister Dr McDaid commented on the unseasonably warm weather as a possible factor for the enduring spread of flu.

“We need a real long spell of a week’s cold hard frost in order to change this,” he said.

“As long as we have this type of weather then this flu in adults and children in particular are going to be the main people who suffer as a result of this.

“I think that after the Christmas break now, once they go back to school again for a week or two I think the rate of absenteeism is going to go right up.

“You’d be far better off being proactive rather than reactive and saying maybe we should close it down at this stage or at least make some decision.”

“You’d be far better off being proactive rather than reactive and saying maybe we should close it down at this stage or at least make some decision.”

The doctor said that the flu vaccine is not the only solution and preventative measures must also be taken. The HSE are advising GPs to continue giving out the vaccine to at-risk patients, while Dr James McDaid advised pregnant women in particular to get the jab.

The current strain of flu could last well into the first months of 2017, according to Dr McDaid.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Simon Harris is planning to meet Health Service Executive officials later today to discuss overcrowding at hospital emergency departments.

Yesterday, Letterkenny University Hospital had 19 patients waiting on trolleys. Across the county, more than 600 people were waiting on beds over the past two days.

While it can often be difficult to tell the difference between the common cold and flu, flu is a much more severe illness than a cold.

Flu symptoms, particularly fever and muscle aches, tend to come on suddenly, whereas a cold usually starts gradually with symptoms of a sore throat and a blocked or runny nose.

The flu virus can be passed on by coughing or sneezing and can be spread from 1-2 days before you develop symptoms and for up to a week after symptoms develop.

The HSE advise that preventing the spread of germs is the most effective way to slow the spread of flu.

  • ensure you wash your hands regularly with soap and water,
  • clean surfaces regularly to get rid of germs,
  • use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and
  • put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible.