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Bronchiolitis epidemic arrives early in France this year

Four departments are in an epidemic while seven others are in a pre-epidemic stage

A photo of a young baby with a breathing mask being placed over her face

Bronchiolitis particularly affects infants and can cause breathing difficulties Pic: Marius Pirvu / Shutterstock

A bronchiolitis epidemic has arrived early in four parts of France, with seven other regions on the mainland considered to be in a pre-epidemic phase of the condition, which mainly affects infants

Health authorities have warned of epidemic conditions in Hauts-de-France, Ile-de-France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie.

The figures were confirmed in the most recent weekly update from the health body Santé publique France on October 12.

It said: “[We notice] the continuation of an increase in indicators for bronchiolitis in children aged under two.”

The number of patients going to the emergency department in hospitals is one of the rising indicators.

The departments of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Brittany, Centre-Val de Loire, Grand-Est, Pays de la Loire, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur are considered to be in a pre-epidemic phase.

Early epidemic

The epidemic appears to have started early this year, with hospitalisation numbers higher than usual for the start of October. The same early start was also reported last year.

In a ‘normal’ year, the annual bronchiolitis season begins around the end of October to mid-November, and peaks in December, finishing at the end of January or the start of February.

However, Covid appears to have affected the season. It was later in 2020-21, starting in mid-February, and affecting fewer children than usual. However, after lockdown lifted in 2021-22, the epidemic started earlier and had more of an impact.

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a viral respiratory infection that affects the bronchioles, the smaller airways into the lungs. Its symptoms include breathing difficulties, a cough and breathing that is fast and may sound wheezy or whistling.

It is not usually life-threatening but can be particularly unpleasant when it affects infants, which it usually does; 30% of children aged from one month to two years are affected every year in France.

What are the signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis?

The Sécurité sociale website states: “Little by little, a dry cough appears. Then comes breathing difficulties, which can show up as fast and wheezy breathing. At this stage of the illness, the child may have problems eating.”

The paediatric association l’Association Française de Pédiatrie Ambulatoire (AFPA) advises: “Keeping watch over your baby is very important.”

Saturated emergency services

However, Christèle Gras Le Guen, the presidente of the Société française de pédiatrie, told 20 Minutes: Paediatric emergency services are already saturated [this year]. 

“Given the situation of the emergency services, families should only come to the emergency department if indicated by a doctor or if your baby is less than three months old.”

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