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Flu attacks

17 February 2014 / 23:02:15  GRReporter
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Greece ranks first in Europe but unfortunately only in terms of influenza activity as shown by the latest survey of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ΕCDC), covering the period from the last days of January to 2 February. The European Centre notes that of the 29 European countries providing clinical data, the highest influenza activity was recorded in Greece whereas it was moderate in Bulgaria, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Malta and Spain. Influenza activity in the other 22 European countries included in the survey was low in the same period.

Be patient until April

Professor Sotiris Tsiodras, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Hellenic Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and a teacher at the Medical Faculty of Athens University states for "To Vima" newspaper, "At present, if a person has flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, aching muscles and bones, the probability of him or her actually being infected with the influenza virus is greater than 50%. We believe that influenza activity has peaked this year much earlier than last year, when the influenza wave was just beginning at that time. Furthermore, we believe that the high activity will continue for another two weeks and then it will begin to decline, so that it will reach low levels in late March or early April."

According to the Hellenic Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 133 people were admitted to intensive care wards and 32 cases of death ware recorded up until Thursday night. Sotiris Tsiodras explains that "these severe cases and fatalities mainly refer to members of high-risk populations, especially those with chronic respiratory diseases. The average age of deceased patients is lower than last year and now it is about 55 years." He also notes that only 46 serious cases and 12 deaths were registered at this time last year.

Influenza strains
What is the main culprit for this year's onslaught of flu in Greece? Director of the National Laboratory for Influenza at Pasteur Institute Andreas Mendis states before the same newspaper that strain Η1Ν1, or the so-called swine flu, has been isolated in the majority of the cases (over 90%). Strain Η3Ν2 has been isolated in a very small percentage of the cases which, along with Η1Ν1, is a subtype of influenza A, whereas very few cases have been connected with influenza B. During this period, however, other respiratory viruses are circulating, including the respiratory syncytial virus and rhinoviruses.

According to Andreas Mendis, however, the genetic analyses of the strains circulating this year show that, fortunately, they are amenable to the preventive and oppressive "weapons" available to physicians. "We have not noticed anything unusual about this year's flu strains. Therefore, the vaccine is effective against them as well as antiviral drugs."

Why are there victims?

Since we are dealing with known strains of influenza, one might however wonder why there are so many deaths this year. Professor Tsiodras replies, "Probably people from high-risk groups have weak immunity to this virus, perhaps many people from this group were not affected by Η1Ν1 last time. However, the shortage of vaccines is a serious problem and there may be a small mutation of the strain that allows it to spread again."

Vaccination or rather failing to be vaccinated against the influenza virus allows the virus to weaken the population as stated by Jenny Kourea-Kremastinou, head of the Hellenic Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and a teacher at the National School of Public Health. "Although we do not have this year's official reports, probably the percentage of vaccination among the risk groups of the population does not exceed 20% - 30% whereas at least 75% of these groups should be vaccinated."

Physicians and nurses are not vaccinated either

The problem is even greater considering the fact that another group which should be vaccinated also reports a record high number of unvaccinated people. These are the medical staff, including physicians and nurses. Previous studies had shown that only 10% - 15% of them were vaccinated against flu. This year things are even worse and perhaps it is the state’s fault to some extent because the previous leadership of the Ministry of Health has discontinued the free provision of vaccines for health care workers, forcing them to obtain a prescription from a physician and then to buy the vaccine at a discount from a pharmacy. So, the percentage of vaccinated medical staff, which was low anyway, has further decreased.

According to experts, however, it is not too late, at least for the risk populations, to be vaccinated. It takes seven to ten days to develop antibodies and, in view of the fact that the flu wave will continue until April, maybe these groups will be able to protect their health. It should be noted however that it is now very difficult to find vaccines because only small quantities of them are available in the market.

How to use antiviral drugs?

When influenza has knocked on our door, the solution is antiviral drugs. Here are some tips from the Hellenic Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for their proper intake:

Tags: FluStrainsHellenic Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
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