People aged 75-84 were the worst hit by last winter’s excess deaths, meeting is told

Excess mortality here last winter coincided with high flu activity and hospitalisations.

Eilish O'Regan

Ireland experienced a rise in excess mortality last winter, which affected the elderly in particular, a conference was told yesterday.

Excess deaths – fatalities which are higher than the expected number for the time of the year – was seen over a number of weeks last December and January.

The worst affected age group was in the 75-84 category, in which excess mortality was seen over a number of weeks, the summer scientific meeting of the Faculty of Public Health in the Royal College of Physicians was told. Researcher Eva Kelly said the rise in all-cause excess deaths overall was “moderate” over four weeks.

Flu, Covid-19 and other winter viruses – as well as people not getting medical help as they should and access to healthcare – all played a role.

Ms Kelly said the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) had been monitoring all-cause mortality on a weekly basis since 2009.

It looked at registered deaths data over late December and early January.This coincided with the surge in flu and other viruses as well as a rise in Covid infections.

The research also involved measuring excess deaths related to pneumonia and flu.

Excess mortality was seen in the age group 65 and older over six weeks, but the worst affected were people aged 75-84.

Ms Kelly told the gathering the trend coincided with “high influenza activity and high influenza hospitalisations”.

Excess deaths have also been seen in previous winters with very high levels of flu.

Other factors that contributed included the Covid pandemic, the circulation of other viruses, the effect of cold weather, an ageing population, and “changes to health-seeking behaviour and access to healthcare”.

Meanwhile, other research presented to the conference by Leah Evans, a health protection nurse in the HSE Mid-West, looked at healthcare usage by Ukrainian refugees in the region.

The research examined the health status and needs of a group of refugees who arrived in the first six months of last year versus those who came in the following six months.

Health-needs assessments were carried out for refugees who came to the region, including 1,130 in the first round and 690 in the second.

There were differences in both groups. The number of men rose from 32pc in the first to 36pc in the second and there was also an increase in the over-65s among the later refugees, said Ms Evans.

The number of pregnant women went from 0.8pc to 2.9pc. The uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine also differed.

A total of 30pc of the second group had two vaccines compared to 44pc of the first.

The level of reported childhood vaccinations among children from Ukraine was also lower than in Ireland with the country having a different schedule compared to here.

The monitoring found that the change in the age and sex of both groups would affect local health services.

"The increasing rates of pregnancy may impact on primary care and maternity services,” said Ms Evans.

The lower rates of Covid vaccination could lead to increased transmission of the virus in crowded settings.

The level of chronic disease among both groups was broadly similar and this would lead to ongoing demands for services, she said.

In response to the lower rates of childhood vaccination, the health services have rolled out a targeted catch-up vaccination programme for people up to 23 years of age.

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