Early influenza cases indicate the possibility of severe upcoming season for elderly
Although the overall number of influenza detections in the majority of EU/EEA countries is still low, indications show that influenza circulation is above the seasonal threshold in Croatia, which is unusually early. The main reported subtype among the cases recorded in EU/EEA during the past month is A(H3N2), which disproportionally affects older people, and is associated with lower vaccine effectiveness. This is a sign that the upcoming influenza season could be severe for elderly people, and that influenza patterns may vary between countries in terms of timing.
“The early detections of the A (H3N2) subtype are an indication that the upcoming flu season could be severe, although we cannot know for sure what the upcoming flu season will look like,” said Pasi Penttinen, Head of ECDC’s influenza programme. “A steep rise in flu infections during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could have serious consequences for the elderly and those with weak immune systems and could place an additional burden on health systems already strained by COVID-19. It is therefore important that we take the necessary precautions and protect those that are most at risk,” said Pasi Penttinen.
During the 2020-2021 season, there was a remarkable decrease (>99%) in the number of influenza infections detected in the EU/EEA, with numbers detected being similar to those reported during inter-seasonal periods. This indicates that non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as avoiding unnecessary crowding and the maintenance of hygiene measures are effective in not only curbing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 but also influenza.
“From our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have further evidence that non-pharmaceutical interventions such as physical distancing and hygiene measures can effectively curb the spread of influenza. This is especially important to consider in environments such as nursing homes and healthcare settings” said Pasi Penttinen. “Vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 and flu also provides good protection against severe disease. Those working in a healthcare setting or a nursing home should ensure that they are vaccinated against both SARS-CoV-2 and flu before the winter months.”
Approximately 20% of the population become infected with influenza each year and one in four infected people will develop symptoms. The elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, problems with the lungs and airways, diabetes or immune system problems are most at risk of experiencing severe complications by influenza.
Antiviral medicines, taken as rapidly as possible after the onset of symptoms, are safe and effective measures for the treatment of flu and are generally recommended for severe or rapidly progressing cases. Their prophylactic properties are also useful as a preventive measure during events such as nursing home outbreaks.
Flu Awareness Campaign 2021
The Flu Awareness Campaign is marked across the WHO European Region every year in October. It aims to raise awareness of the importance of vaccination for people’s health and well-being and to increase the uptake of seasonal influenza vaccination of people with underlying risk factors.