Influenza epidemic practically over in Hungary

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The number of Hungarians seeking medical help with severe acute respiratory illnesses and influenza-like symptoms fell 13% and 30% week on week per 100,000 population on the seven days up to 10 May, according to the latest report of the National Centre for Public Health (NNK). COVID-19 statistics are baffling, but only for those that have been watching them for the last two weeks.
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Key COVID-19 stats first

Before going into flu data, let's take a look at the latest developments on the coronavirus front!

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19 no longer represents a "global health emergency".

This does not mean, however, that the pandemic, which claimed at least seven million lives, is over. The head of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the true figure was "likely" closer to 20 million deaths - nearly three times the official estimate - and he warned that the virus remained a significant threat.

The worst thing any country can do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that Covid-19 is nothing to worry about,

he said.

Dr Mike Ryan, from the WHO's health emergencies programme, said the emergency may have ended, but the threat is still there. "We fully expect that this virus will continue to transmit and this is the history of pandemics. It took decades for the final throes of the pandemic virus of 1918 to disappear."

The key data for Hungary for the last four weeks are in the table below. A single look tells us how erratic and unreliable Hungary's Covid data are. A long weekend can mess up the already shoddy system.

For the 5 days (!) up to 9 May, the coronavirus information centre reported 224 people with SARS-CoV-2 in hospital, with 8 of them on ventilator. For the 10 days (!) before that it reported 95 people in hospital and did not even give a number of those requiring mechanical ventilation. For the 7 days before that it reported 350 people in hospital and 10 on ventilator. Not that it matters but we have a nagging suspicion that this is not how accurate data reporting looks like.

Is the flu epidemic over yet?

Yeah, kinda. The NNK said that on the 18th week of the year, 120,100 people went to the doctor with symptoms of severe acute respiratory infections (down from 138,200 a week earlier), of whom 6,300 (5.2%) were diagnosed with influenza-like illness, in contrast with 9,000 (6.5%) a week earlier.

If it were not for the holiday season when people are less inclined to visit the GP's office and complain about "just a wee cough", we would not see that dip towards end-2022 in the lines below.

230511flu02

Here's another chart attesting the peak in the epidemic was left behind two and a half months ago.

And let's stop here for a second. Last year, the number of people seeking medical help with flu-like symptoms peaked on the 12th week of the year, but this year's peak was 2.5 times higher and if we compare it to the 2021 peak (on the 8th week) we see a 12.5-fold growth per 100,000 inhabitants.

This obviously has to do with weather conditions and social distancing, but also with mandatory mask-wearing, which may be a good idea to make a habit during flu season. And it doesn't require a lot of effort, not to mention a change in regulations. It's just common sense.

The SARI figure per 100,000 population shows a 13.1% drop, versus -7.1% a week ago, and the number of flu-like symptoms has fallen by 30%, the same as a week ago.

230511flu01

A breakdown of the positive samples show the high prevalence of the flu, followed by SARS-CoV-2 and RSV. The graph shows percentages of cumulated data, with the x axis showing the weeks starting on the 40th week of 2022 up to the 18th week of 2023.

OF THE 18 RESPIRATORY SPECIMENS (down sharply FROM 51 A WEEK AGO) SENT IN BY DOCTORS, one (5.6%) Was FOUND TO BE INFLUENZA OF SOME TYPE, two (11.1%) WERE SARS-COV-2, AND ZERO PATIENTS HAD RESPIRATORY SYNCYTIAL VIRUS (RSV).

This compares with 21.6%, 15.7% and 0% the week before, respectively.

Last week, 134 people were hospitalised (153 on the preceding week) for severe acute respiratory infections, 18 of whom required intensive care (also 18 a week earlier). Of the 134 patients, 20.1% (27) were aged 2 years or younger (versus 20.3% or 31 a week ago) and 53.7% (72) were aged 60 years or older (versus 53.6% or 82 a week ago).

Of the patients requiring hospital care, zero was affected by influenza (vs. 2 or 1.3% a week ago), 50 or 37.3% by SARS-CoV-2 (down from 59 or 38.6% a week ago) and 5 or 3.7% by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) (vs. 2 or 1.3% a week ago).

60% of RSV positive patients (3) were 2 years old or younger, while 88% (44) of people hospitalised with coronavirus infection were in the 60+ age group.

The age breakdown (see the four graphs below) shows that SARI affected primarily children, and to a smaller extent young adults since the 40th week of last year, while flu-like illnesses started to "pick on" children and young Hungarians from the fourth week of 2023 and it remained so up to about the 14th or 15th week.

Cover photo: Getty Images

 

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