Number of Hungarians with respiratory infection rises for 2nd week in a row

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The number of people seeking medical help with acute respiratory infection (ARI) went up in Hungary on the 16th week of 2024 for the second consecutive week, while the number of those going to the doctor with influenza-like symptoms dropped a modest 6.1%. Some 63,000 (almost 48%) of the 133,000 ARI patients were children.
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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 (95.1) was higher than currently only once in the past 12 cold seasons, in 2022/23.

For the 52nd week of 2023, the NNK published only a couple of figures, hence the gaps in the graphs.

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On the 16th week of 2024, a total of 132,800 people sought medical help with acute respiratory infection (ARI), of whom 9,200 (6.9%) had flu-like symptoms. The former figure marks a 2.9% increase after a 6.9% w/w rise, while the latter is 6.1% lower than a week earlier, after a 9.3% drop over the 14th week.

The rise in the number of ARI patients on the 15th week had to do with the fact that the 14th week had only four working days and during holidays people rather stay clear of the doctor unless it's an emergency. After essentially summer temperatures the weather turned chilly about two weeks ago and remained that way, so - as we predicted a week earlier - stagnation or even a rise in ARI stats on the 16thweek was on the cards and therefore should not be surprising. Nor alarming for that matter.

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We can also compare the ARI and flu numbers for 100,000 inhabitants. The epidemic has been more severe in this respect in 2023/24 than in 2022/23 in about 40% of the weeks so far, between the 47th week of 2023 and the 7th week of 2024.

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We need to note that this year authorities perform more tests than a year ago, even though the number of samples tested remains extremely low (140 in total on a national level last week, down from 146 on the shortened 15th week).

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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. The gap has widened considerably, reaching 38.8% percentage points on the 6th week and has since then come down to 1.4% on the 16th week.

The influenza positivity rate was certainly way higher a year ago, and the Covid positivity rate is also lower currently, while the RSV rate was lower a year ago.

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As regards all samples tested up to the 16th week, the Covid positivity rate continues to be the highest, but the flu positivity rate is coming up and might eventually catch up. It has time to do so until the 20th week when the NNGYK stops publishing epidemiological data for this flu season.

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The share of coronavirus in all samples tested (orange lines) was a lot smaller a year ago (10.2%) than currently (15.7%), while the percentage of influenza in the samples (green lines) is considerably lower now (15.0%) than in the period between the 40th week of 2022 and 15th week of 2023 (43.5%).

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 5.2% on the 16th week this year versus 10.0% a year ago. Note that these are the percentages of the select pathogens found in all samples tested up to the 16th week.

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People tested positive for influenza and RSV had to be hospitalised for the 19th consecutive week in this flu season. The 47th week was the first one when one of the samples showed influenza infection (up at 1,021 in total by the end of the 16th week). Other pathogens identified between the 40th and 16th week were SARS-CoV-2 (1,071), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, 356), adenovirus (8), parainfluenza (12), human metapneumovirus (HMPV, 167, and rhinovirus (57).

The graphs below show a comparison with the previous 'flu season'. In 2022/23, there were no reports of people with Covid in hospitals up to the end of 2022, 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). In this respect, the Covid situation is now a lot better.

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The following chart depicts the number and share of people infected by influenza virus who had to be hospitalised. As you can see (orange columns, light blue curve), this 'flu season' was worse in this respect than the previous one up to the 8th week, but we see a turnaround on the 9th week and a sharp drop on the 10th week with a further decline on subsequent weeks. The share of influenza patients of all people in hospital is lower now (0.0%) than a year go (2.9%). (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.)

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We have the same graph for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which shows that this infection was more severe in the previous 'flu season' up to the sixth week, but there was a turnaround on the 7th week. The number of people treated with RSV in hospitals dropped, and their share as a percentage of all people hospitalised with SARI went down to 9.7%, and remains higher than a year ago (2.9%) when only 4 people with RSV were in hospital against 7 currently.

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

There were 72 people with SARI in hospital on the week under review, down from 108 a week earlier. Seven of them were in the ICU, down from 11 a week ago, which corresponds to a 9.7% ratio, down from 10.2%.

5 of the 7 RSV patients were aged 2 years or younger, down from 19 a week earlier.

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More children get sick

Finally, we have an age breakdown both for ARI and flu patients. Children up to the age of 14 are on top of the ARI age rankings in terms of numbers. After 11 consecutive months they were no longer on top in the flu rankings (29.3%) on the 15th week, as the hardest-hit cluster has become the 15-34 age group (32.3%), although the difference in numbers is negligible (about 300 people). The same goes for the 16th week, with the difference shrinking further (2,907 vs. 3,082). The right-hand charts show the share of people with ARI and flu-like symptoms by age group.

On the 16th week this year, about 63,000 children sought medical help with ARI, an increase of some 6,000 from a week ago, They represented 47.5% of all people that turned to the doctor with some respiratory infection. There were 2,907 children in this age group with flu-like symptoms on the 16th week, up slightly from 2,871 a week earlier.

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Cover photo: Getty Images

 

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