Hungary 'closes' flu season with highest infection figure of the past 13 years

The number of people seeking medical help with acute respiratory infection (ARI) fell slightly in Hungary on the 20th week of 2024, and the number of those going to the doctor with influenza-like symptoms dropped by 25%. About 57,400, or half of the 116,900 ARI patients were children.

The number of people seeking medical help with influenza-like symptoms per 100,000 population (49.8) was never higher than currently in the past 12 cold seasons.

For the 52nd week of 2023, the NNK published only a couple of figures, hence the gaps in the graphs. Theoretically, this was the last report in the current flu season, with the NNK expected to be back on the 40th week this year (the start of October).


On the 20th week of 2024, a total of 116,900 people sought medical help with acute respiratory infection (ARI), of whom 4,800 (4.2%) had flu-like symptoms. The former figure marks a 3.5% decrease, while the latter corresponds to a 25% fall from the 19th 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 a month ago and remained that way bar several days, hence the rise in ARI stats even on the 16th and 17th week.


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 only on 13 of the 33-week period, between the 47th week of 2023 and the 7th week of 2024 and on the 17th and 18th weeks this year.


We need to note that this year authorities performed more tests (7,178) than a year ago (4,390), even though the number of samples tested remains extremely low (81 in total on a national level last week, practically unchanged from 82 on the 19th week). On a weekly average, a total of 133 samples were tested in the 2022/23 flu season and 218 in the current season.


As regards all samples tested up to the 20th week, the Covid positivity rate ended to be higher than the flu positivity rate, unlike in the previous flu season (see more about this later).


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 even reversed to -1.3 on the 18th week, before rising to 3.7 on the 19th week and retreating to 2.5 on the 20th week.

The influenza positivity rate was lower a year ago (0.0% vs. 2.5% now), while both the Covid and the RSV positivity rates were already 0.0% in both years, the latter down from 4.9% a week ago.


The share of coronavirus in all samples tested (orange lines) was smaller a year ago (10.2%) than currently (14.9%), while the percentage of influenza in the samples (green lines) is considerably lower now (14.3%) than in the period between the 40th week of 2022 and the 20th week of 2023 (41.6%).

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 5.1% by the 20th week this year versus 9.5% a year ago. Note that these are the percentages of the select pathogens found in all samples tested up to the 20th week.


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 1,030 in total by the end of the 19th week). Other pathogens identified between the 40th and 20th week were SARS-CoV-2 (1,072), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, 366), adenovirus (9), parainfluenza (14), human metapneumovirus (HMPV, 182, and rhinovirus (68).

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, as a year ago 22 people with coronavirus infection were hospitalised.


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 (0 out of 80) is the same as a year go (0.0%). (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 to zero on the 19th week from 3 a week earlier, which compares with 2 out of 120 a year ago. No people with RSV infection had to be hospitalised on the 20th week either this year or in the previous flu season.


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

There were 80 people with SARI in hospital on the week under review, up from 70 a week earlier and 65 a fortnight ago. Ten of them were in the ICU, up from 4 a week ago, which corresponds to a 12.5% ratio, up from 5.7%.


Fewer 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 became the 15-34 age group, although the difference in numbers was negligible (about 300 people). They held their leading position for another week than the 0-14 age group took over until the 20th week, with a practically negligeable difference (67).

On the 20th week this year, about 57,400 children sought medical help with ARI, a decrease of only some 4,300 from a week ago, They represented 50.0% of all people that turned to the doctor with some respiratory infection.


Cover photo: © Jake Wyman


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