Flu epidemic worsens in Hungary

In terms of the number of Hungarians per 100,000 population seeking medical help with influenza-like symptoms, this flu season currently ranks the fourth worse since 2011/2012. In respect of people hospitalised with flu infection we are currently a lot worse than a year ago, while in terms of the gravity of coronavirus infections the situation is largely the same.
influenza betegség fertőzés

The flu season generally peaks between the 7th and 10th week of the year, but the highest figures can vary greatly from one year to another. The coronavirus pandemic, for instance, put a serious dent into the spread of the flu (see graph below).

The number of people seeking medical help with influenza-like symptoms per 100,000 population (488.8) was higher than currently only three times in the past 12 cold seasons (in 2014/15, 2016/17 and in 2018/19), while it is only a tad worse than in 2017/18 (486.3).

For the 52nd week of 2023, the NNK published only a couple of figures, hence the gaps in the graphs. The timeline on the second graph goes up only to the 5th week for a closer look.


On the 5th week of 2024, a total of 271,000 people sought medical help with severe acute respiratory infection (SARI), of whom 47,400 (17.5%) had flu-like symptoms. The former figure marks a 16.1% increase and the latter a 28.5% jump growth over the 4th week.


We can also compare the SARI and flu numbers for 100,000 inhabitants. Despite the relief observed between the 51st week of 2023 and the 1st week of 2024, chances are that the epidemic will be more severe in 2023/24 than in 2022/23.


We need to highlight that this year authorities perform more tests than a year ago, even though the number of samples tested remains extremely low (398 in total on a national level last week, up from 298 a week ago, and this season's record so far). The early zeal has abated by now, though. While initially six, eight, and even ten times more samples were tested, the multiplier is now just over two.


The COVID-19 positivity rate dropped further to 4.5%, while the influenza positivity rate climbed higher to 32.4% from 28.9% on the 4th week. 


As regards all samples tested up to the 5th week, the Covid positivity rate continues to stand out.


The share of coronavirus in all samples tested (orange lines) was about half than currently a year ago (13.6% vs. 25.3% currently), while the percentage of influenza in the samples (green lines) is way lower now than in the fourth week of 2023 (9.4% vs. 22.6%).

As regards the prevalence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the samples (blue lines), the situation is much better in the current cold season than in 2022/23, with the share only at 2.0% on the fifth week this year versus 9.6% a year ago. Note that these are the percentages of the select pathogens found in all samples tested up to the 5th week.


If we take a look at the positivity rates on the individual weeks, we find that there was a turnaround on the 2nd week, with the influenza positivity rate (14.0%) higher than the Covid positivity rate (13.6%) for the first time in the current flu season. Since then the gap has widened and it is now considerable: 32.4% flu vs. 4.5% Covid.


If you're wondering how the weekly positivity rates might turn out, here's how it went down last year, not that it is any guarantee that it will be repeated, but still:


For the ninth consecutive week in this flu season, people who tested positive for influenza virus and RSV also had to be hospitalised. The 47th week was the first one when one of the samples showed influenza infection (up at 378 in total by the end of the 5th week). Other pathogens identified between the 40th and 5th week were SARS-CoV-2 (1,021), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, 80), adenovirus (3), parainfluenza (5), human metapneumovirus (HMPV, 24, and rhinovirus (37).

THERE WERE 291 PEOPLE IN HOSPITAL WITH SARI ON THE 5TH WEEK, VERSUS 222 A WEEK AGO. 20.3% OF THEM WERE TREATED WITH COVID-19, up slightly FROM 18.5% A WEEK EARLIER, while a quarter of them (25.4%) were treated with influenza, up from 22.5% on the 4th week.

The graphs below show a comparison with the previous 'flu season'. In 2022/23, there were no reports of people with Covid in hospitals, but that doesn't mean there weren't any (there were 100 on the first week of 2023, so it's a pretty safe bet that not all of them got to that stage overnight).


The second chart depicts the number and share of people infected by influenza virus in hospitals. As you can see (orange columns, light blue curve), this 'flu season' is much worse in this respect than the previous one. The chart starts on the 49th week because that was the first week in this season when someone infected with influenza virus had to be hospitalised.


We have the same graph for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which shows that this infection was a lot more severe in the previous 'flu season', although both the number of RSV infections and related hospitalisations did pick up on the fifth week of 2024.


Another important indicator of the severity of an epidemic is how many of those hospitalised end up in the intensive care unit.

As mentioned above, there were 291 people with SARI in hospital on the week under review, up from 222 a week earlier. 35 of them were in the ICU, which corresponds to a 12.0% ratio, which figures compare with 19 (8.6%) a week earlier.


30.2% of those hospitalised with SARI were children aged 2 years or younger (down a tad from 31.1% a week ago), while 39.5% of them were aged 60 and over (down slightly from 40.1% on the 4th week).


Majority of those with SARI are children

Finally, we have an age breakdown both for SARI and flu patients. Children up to the age of 14 are on top of the SARI age rankings in terms of numbers, and for the first time this season they are also on top in the flu rankings, while the second hardest-hit cluster is the 15-34 age group. The right-hand charts show the share of people with SARI and flu-like symptoms by age group.

Looking back on the 2022/23 data we find that the 0-14 age group was the hardest hit throughout the flu season in terms of SARI, while in terms of flu-like symptoms they were the most affected age group between the 3rd and the 15th week of this year, i.e. from mid-January to mid-April.

On the 5th week this year, more than 140,000 children sought medical help with SARI, nearly 52% of all people that turned to the doctor with some respiratory infection. They also stand out when it comes to flu-like symptoms (41% of all), with their number up at over 19,000 from 14,000 a week ago.


Cover photo: Getty Images


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