Number of Hungarians with acute respiratory infection rises for 3rd consecutive week

The number of people seeking medical help with acute respiratory infection (ARI) went up in Hungary on the 17th week of 2024 for the third consecutive week, while the number of those going to the doctor with influenza-like symptoms dropped by less than 9%. Nearly 75,000 (over 52%) of the almost 143,000 ARI patients were children.
influenza légúti fertőzés stock

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 (87) 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.


On the 17th week of 2024, a total of 142,700 people sought medical help with acute respiratory infection (ARI), of whom 8,400 (5.9%) had flu-like symptoms. The former figure marks a 7.5% increase after a 2.9% and 6.9% w/w rise on the preceding weeks, while the latter is 8.7% lower than a week earlier, after a 6.1% w/w drop on the 16th and a 9.3% fall on the 15th 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 three weeks ago and remained that way bar a couple of days, so - as we predicted a week earlier - stagnation or even a rise in ARI stats on the 16th week was on the cards and therefore should not be surprising. Nor alarming for that matter. The greater number of people with ARI on the 17th week is definitely out of the ordinary but may also be linked to the weather.


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 40% of the weeks so far, between the 47th week of 2023 and the 7th week of 2024 and on the 17th week this year.


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 (112 in total on a national level last week, down from 140 on the 16th 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. 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 only to widen some to 3.6% on the 17th 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.


As regards all samples tested up to the 17th 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.


The share of coronavirus in all samples tested (orange lines) was a lot smaller a year ago (10.3%) than currently (15.4%), while the percentage of influenza in the samples (green lines) is considerably lower now (14.8%) than in the period between the 40th week of 2022 and the 17th week of 2023 (42.9%).

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% by the 17th week this year versus 9.8% a year ago. Note that these are the percentages of the select pathogens found in all samples tested up to the 17th week, just like the graph above.


People tested positive for influenza and RSV had to be hospitalised for the 20th consecutive week in this flu season. The 47th week was the first one when one of the samples showed influenza infection (up at 1,025 in total by the end of the 17th week). Other pathogens identified between the 40th and 17th week were SARS-CoV-2 (1,071), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, 359), adenovirus (9), parainfluenza (12), human metapneumovirus (HMPV, 173, and rhinovirus (61).

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.


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 higher now (2.6%) than a year go (1.3%). (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 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 2.6%, and remains higher than a year ago (1.3%) but only because there were only 78 people in hospital with SARI on the 17th week this year, against nearly double (153) a year ago.


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

There were 78 people with SARI in hospital on the week under review, up from 72 a week earlier. Seven of them were in the ICU, unchanged from a week ago, which corresponds to a 9.0% ratio, down from 9.7%.


More children get sick

Finally, we have an age breakdown both for ARI and flu patients. Children up to the age of 14 remain 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 went for the 16th week, with the difference shrinking further (2,907 vs. 3,082), and on the 17th week the youngest took the lead again (2,848 vs. 2,654). The right-hand charts show the share of people with ARI and flu-like symptoms by age group.

On the 17th week this year, about 74,600 children sought medical help with ARI, an increase of some 9,500 from a week ago, They represented 52.3% of all people that turned to the doctor with some respiratory infection.


Cover photo: Getty Images


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