THE FLU epidemic sweeping through France has now affected 280,000 people over the past two weeks, with Auvergne, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Rhône-Alpes, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Languedoc-Roussillon particularly hard hit.
With a total of 173,500 cases in the last week alone the epidemic is strengthening and it is thought the number of cases will continue to rise this week.
The flu - mostly of the virus A/H3N2 - is characterised by a sudden fever with temperature above 39C, muscle and joint pains and breathing difficulty.
Figures collected by the GPs' network Sentinelles show that the grippe epidemic limit of 161 cases per 100,000 inhabitants had been smashed in the worst-affected regions.
Auvergne has 584 cases per 100,000, Paca 546, Rhône-Alpes 395, Nord-Pas-de-Calais 316 and Languedoc-Roussillon 311 - with the national average being 273 cases per 100,000. However, in Auvergne there are large areas with very few cases.
Each year between two and eight million people are hit by flu and it can cause between 1,500 and 2,000 deaths, mainly of over-65s. The present epidemic has started later in winter than usual because of the unusually mild weather.