Flu now at epidemic level in France, south worst hit

Health authorities are warning people to be ‘cautious’ as cases of flu rise sharply amid the festive season

A view of an unwell woman blowing her nose
Colder temperatures always see a rise in respiratory conditions, with flu now at pre-epidemic levels in eight regions of France, and at epidemic levels in PACA
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Cases of flu have now reached epidemic levels in France, health authorities have warned, with the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region worst-hit.

Health authority Santé publique France (SPF) this week stated, in its bulletin to December 6: “The indicators for flu / flu-like syndrome have increased at GP surgeries and in hospitals across all ages.

“The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region entered the epidemic phase this week, while the Occitanie, Hauts-de-France and Pays de la Loire regions entered the pre-epidemic phase.”

La semaine dernière, les indicateurs des infections respiratoires aiguës #Bronchiolite #COVID19 #Grippe étaient globalement en hausse en médecine de ville et en milieu hospitalier.
Pour consulter le bulletin

— SantépubliqueFrance (@SantePubliqueFr) December 7, 2023

Nationwide, from November 27 to December 6, the number of medical consultations (at SOS Médécins service) for flu-like illness was 7,124, or 7%. This compares to 5.8% in the two weeks before (to November 27).

The rate of consultations for all ages for flu-like illness also rose from 188 per 100,000 inhabitants to 251, said GP network Sentinelles.

Visits to A&E for influenza-like conditions rose sharply also; from 253 to 1,864 in the same time period.

There are now eight regions in the pre-epidemic phase. "We are urging people to be cautious,” said Isabelle Parent, epidemiologist at SPF, to AFP.

In early December, Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau called for a ‘jump start’ in the number of people getting their flu vaccination after a low take-up. He said: “It is now at a worrying point. We need to take action. Otherwise, the hospitals and the most vulnerable will pay the highest price.”

The flu vaccination campaign began on October 17 and will finish on January 31, 2024.

Bronchiolitis and Covid

It comes as France is at epidemic levels nationwide for bronchiolitis - which usually affects infants - and is also seeing rising Covid cases.

“Factors suggest that the [bronchiolitis] epidemic is reaching its peak this week,” said SPF.

It comes after health services - including SOS Médécins - reported that at the start of December, cases of Covid had hit the highest level in two years.

Read more: SEE: Covid cases in France at highest level for two years

Colder temperatures always result in respiratory illnesses spreading - including Covid, flu, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and the common cold - as people are more likely to gather in enclosed spaces, and in rooms in which all windows are closed.

Read more: Unusual rise in respiratory infections in France

Catching one of the illnesses does not give immunity to another, meaning that the most vulnerable people are at risk of becoming infected continuously.

Health professionals have advised the public to get their flu and Covid vaccinations as soon as possible, avoid kissing or embracing people who are ill or vulnerable, and to aerate rooms for at least 10 minutes every hour.

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