Rise in respiratory infections continues in France

Three more regions are now at ‘pre-epidemic’ stage for flu and wastewater samples are showing a 24% rise in the presence of the Covid virus

A man dressed as Father Christmas, holding a Covid face mask
SPF has said that in the run up to Christmas, taking preventative measures is even more important
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Cases of respiratory infections are continuing to rise in France, warn health officials, with Covid, flu, bronchitis, bronchiolitis and other viruses and conditions circulating rapidly.

The national health body Santé Publique France (SPF) said all indicators suggest significant rises in acute respiratory infections, including flu, bronchiolitis, and Covid-19 in its latest update on December 6.

Flu pre-epidemics, bronchiolitis and Covid

The regions of Bourgogne-France-Comté, Centre-Val de Loire and Grand Est have all now passed into the ‘pre-epidemic’ stage for flu, adding to Île-de-France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, it said.

SPF added: “Indicators of influenza/influenza-like illness were on the increase [for the week to December 6]...and concerned all age groups.”

It called on everyone and especially the most vulnerable, who are eligible for free vaccinations, to be vaccinated against flu and Covid-19 as soon as possible.

All regions in France, except Corsica, were in a state of epidemic for bronchiolitis, which usually affects infants and babies, in the week to December 6, SPF said, although this does now appear to be stabilising.

Yet, the health authority also warned that emergency departments and the at-home health service SOS Médecins were seeing record numbers of consultations for infant pulmonary infections, with an 18.78% rise week-on-week.

It comes after an alert was raised in November over the “unusual rise” in respiratory conditions caused by the Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria.

Read more: Unusual rise in respiratory infections in France

Meanwhile, cases of Covid-19 were “on a slight rise at GP surgeries and in hospitals, especially among people aged 65 and over”, as were cases of flu, said SPF.

The new Covid variants of Pirola, and its sub-strain JN.1, could cause cases to rise further over the festive period, the authority warns.

Read more: Covid in France: What are symptoms of the new variant Pirola?

“An increase in virological indicators from tests carried out in medical biology laboratories was observed in all age groups among the population that was tested…[and] there was a sharp increase (+24%) in the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater this week, indicating active circulation of the virus in France,” it said.

How to protect yourself and family at Christmas

The health authority said that in the run up to Christmas, taking preventative measures is even more important.

It states: “Against this backdrop, and in the run-up to family gatherings over the festive season, it is vital that people at risk protect themselves by getting vaccinated against seasonal influenza and Covid-19, and that everyone continues to adopt barrier measures.”

Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau has also commented on low flu vaccination figures, saying: “We need to do something about it. Otherwise, the hospitals and the most vulnerable will pay the price.”

Je vais être plus explicite : à la différence de celle contre le Covid, les chiffres de la vaccination contre la grippe sont médiocres. C’est désormais préoccupant. Il nous faut un sursaut. Sinon, ce sont l’hôpital et les plus fragiles qui vont payer tout cela au prix fort.

— Aurélien Rousseau (@aur_rousseau) November 30, 2023

The Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine saying that so far in 2023, there has been “a delay in flu vaccination of almost five points compared to 2022 in the general population”.

This equates to almost 500,000 patients, and this deficit will lead to “1,000 more hospitalisations and a few hundred more deaths”, said Philippe Besset, president of the pharmaceutical union la Fédération des syndicats pharmaceutiques de France (FSPF).

Read more: Alert over low take up for flu vaccination in France

The take up of vaccines against Covid has been better.

One virologist expert, Bruno Lina, from the CHU Lyon, said that the new variants of Covid appear to be causing less serious infections but that barrier gestures and preventative measures were still paramount.

These include:

  • Take a test before you visit friends or family, even if you have no symptoms
  • Ensure you have your Covid and flu vaccine, especially if you are eligible for free jabs
  • Air out rooms regularly - open the windows for at least 10 minutes every hour
  • Wash your hands well and regularly for at least 30 seconds - especially after touching your face, going outside, taking public transport, sneezing or coughing - and before preparing food
  • Use disposable tissues, cover your mouth and nose completely, and throw the tissues away immediately
  • Cover all coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands
  • Say hello and goodbye without physical contact

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