Almost all regions in France have seen a rebound of the [flu] epidemic, new data from French health body Santé publique France show.
Only the regions of Normandy and Hauts-de-France are now under post-epidemic status, with the South East regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur most affected.
Brittany, which a week before had declared ‘post-epidemic’ status, has returned to its previous epidemic declaration.
All 13 regions of mainland France had declared epidemic status at the end of the year, yet this number had reduced to only 10 regions at the end of January, with the hope that infections had peaked and would begin to fall. This has not been the case.
This comes as the Haute Autorité de Santé in France releases a report recommending that all children from the ages of two - 17 should be offered annual flu vaccinations.
In particular, they recommend nasal spray vaccinations, although any of the five current vaccinations are deemed acceptable.
They stop short, however, of requesting that this becomes mandatory.
It said that the aim was to slow down the spread of the virus, as hospitalisation of people with flu can clog up the medical system, causing delays for other appointments and A and E admittances.
Flu season not over
At the beginning of the year, there was a lull in infections, leading many to think that this winter’s flu season, which started early, was over.
By mid-January, however, cases were on the rise, with hospital admissions due to flu increasing by 13% in the week of January 16 – 22.
The two weeks following this saw hospitalisations nationwide rise 38% and 43% respectively.
The age range with the largest rise in cases is the 15 – 44 bracket; hospitalisations for this group rose 93% last week.
Two ‘types’ of flu
The end of 2022 saw France deal with a ‘triple epidemic’ of Covid-19, flu and bronchitis, especially in young children.
The prominent flu strain at the end of the year was the ‘type A’ strain.
In 2023, however, a new variation of the flu, ‘type B’ or the Victoria strain, has become the dominant strain and leading cause of the current wave of hospitalisations.
The type A strain is still present across France despite the prevalence of this new variation, effectively meaning two strains of flu are spreading.
Those who have already been infected with the type A strain can be re-infected by this new variation, says infectologist Benjamin Davido, leading to the increase in hospitalisations.
One potential explanation for the increase this year is due to the relatively low levels of illnesses faced in recent winters when anti-Covid measurements such as facemasks and social distancing also limited the spread of flu and cold viruses.
Natural immunity to cold and flu illnesses lowered due to the relative lack of infections, leading to symptoms this year feeling more impactful.
83 deaths in hospitals due to flu have been recorded since the beginning of October 2022; 40 cases in the 65 and over age bracket, 40 in the 15 – 64 range, and three in those aged 15 and under.