European health leaders have voiced their concern over a potential surge in respiratory virus infections across the region this winter, and called for better protection of the population, especially the most vulnerable.
As concerns over the spread of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) increase and Covid-19 remains a threat, the 2022-2023 influenza (flu) season has gotten off to an early start in the European region, Xinhua news agency reported, citing a joint statement issued by European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge and Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Andrea Ammon.
“The World Health Organization Europe region is currently experiencing increasing circulation of influenza and RSV. Together with Covid-19, these viruses are expected to have a high impact on our health services and populations this winter,” the statement said.
It highlighted the current influenza viruses (A and B), which are rising in circulation in different parts of the region, among all age groups. Those aged 55 years and older are particularly vulnerable. They have accounted for almost half of all reported influenza hospital admissions since October.
Another cause for concern is the spike in RSV, a common respiratory virus that causes bronchitis or pneumonia and can be fatal, particularly in infants and the elderly. RSV cases have “also been on the rise since October, with some 20 countries and areas experiencing intensified RSV activity.”
While case rates, hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and death rates are all currently low compared to the previous 12 months, there are concerns that “this situation could change as new variants emerge, and the disease continues to strain healthcare resources.”
“With the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the circulation and health impact of other respiratory pathogens, it is challenging to predict how the new winter period will develop,” the statement said.
The leaders also recommend that clinicians consider early antiviral treatments and prophylaxis for influenza, RSV and Covid-19 for those at risk of severe disease in order to prevent severe outcomes and reduce the burden on healthcare systems.
“We cannot say it enough: vaccination saves lives. It decreases the chances of being infected and reduces the risk of severe illness from Covid-19 and seasonal influenza,” the document said.