Two European organisations have stated that the ‘flu’ has arrived in Europe.
The European Influenza Surveillance Scheme (EISS) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have confirmed an upsurge in the number of laboratory confirmed cases of influenza in several European countries.
As of this week, 13 European countries are reporting significant influenza activity (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the UK).
This increase in influenza activity, which can be expected at this time of the year, is likely to spread to other European countries in the near future. If the virus behaves as it has in previous years then it will gradually move eastwards and northwards during the coming weeks.
ECDC estimates that seasonal influenza is responsible for between 40,000 and 220,000 excess deaths in Europe each year, depending upon the severity of the influenza season. So far, this year’s seasonal influenza has been predominantly caused by a new strain of the A(H1) influenza virus which is usually associated with mild epidemics.
In the last 15 years, H1 infection rates have been highest in young children but so far this winter, influenza has shown high infection rates in the working population in four countries (Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and UK). Following a World Health Organization recommendation in February last year, this new strain replaced the old H1 strain in this season’s flu vaccine to provide more optimal protection.
EISS chairman, Professor Koos van der Velden, said: “Usually over 70% of doctor consultations for influenza are for children up to 14 years. However this year healthcare services should be gearing up to an increase in demand for doctor consultations, not only from concerned parents, but also from people of working age.”
ECDC is supporting the work of EISS to monitor influenza cases across Europe, improve knowledge of how the disease spreads and so strengthen Europe’s defences against it.
Zsuzsanna Jakab, Director of ECDC, pointed out that the greatest burden is still likely to be felt by the elderly and chronically ill: “Influenza is a disease that needs to be taken seriously. It is unpleasant for anyone who catches it, and can be fatal for older people and people with chronic conditions such as heart or lung disease. People in these high risk groups should protect themselves by getting vaccinated.”