Europe's flu rate rises, disease spreads eastwards

by (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions. | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 25 January 2011 17:30 GMT

* Flu rates rise in Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, France

* Deaths starting to rise, younger people at particular risk

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Rates of seasonal flu are rising in The Netherlands, Ireland, Spain and France, and the disease is spreading eastwards with hundreds of people needing treatment in intensive care units and death tolls also starting to rise.

Experts at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which monitors disease in the region, said they are particularly worried by the number of younger people affected by the season's flu, which is dominated by the H1N1 strain that spread around the world as a pandemic in 2009/10.

"Even in the middle of the influenza season, many preventable ... cases and fatalities can still be avoided through vaccination," said ECDC director Marc Sprenger.

Latest data from the ECDC's weekly flu surveillance report show that at least 24 flu deaths have been reported in Spain, 11 in the Netherlands and six in Ireland.

Data from Britain's Health Protection Agency last week showed that at least 254 people there had died with flu since the start of the flu season in October. [ID:nLDE70J1NS]

"Looking at what is happening in France, the Netherlands, and Ireland, we can see that the influenza epidemics are progressing from west to east in Europe," Angus Nicoll, the ECDC's flu expert, said in a telephone interview.

He said the situation in Britain, where intensive care units have had to deal with a surge of flu patients and where a rush for flu vaccines has led to supply shortages in some areas, should act as a warning to health authorities further east.

"What is concerning us ... is that it's a similar pattern of deaths as in the pandemic. It is younger people, particularly those in the clinical risk groups," he said, as well as others who had no underlying health problems.

"We expect a similar pattern in the other countries."

Death rates from flu generally take several months or even a year to be fully collated and Nicoll said data being published in Britain were likely to turn out to be a "minimum estimate".

The H1N1 flu strain is included in seasonal flu vaccines being offered across the world this year after the World health Organisation (WHO) advised it was likely to be the most dominant strain of the northern hemisphere's 2010/2011 flu season.

Flu vaccines are made by companies including GlaxoSmithKline <GSK.L>, Sanofi-Aventis <SASY.PA> and Novartis <NOVN.VX>.

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