A large-scale influenza epidemic in France, but not out of the ordinary

An epidemic “in vain”of “high size”, “probably more deadly than previous years”… Qualifications multiply among specialists to describe the flu wave currently hitting France.

If the first cases were detected at the end of October 2022 in Brittany, the circulation of the virus accelerated rapidly, placing all the French regions in an epidemic phase at the beginning of December, whereas influenza usually imposes itself in January. Indicators are now particularly high in Ile-de-France and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, according to the bulletin of Public Health France (SPF) published on Wednesday, January 4.

The collected data of the Danish Health Authority, from medical centers, SOS doctors and emergency services, all testify until the end of 2022 to an explosion in the use of care for influenza syndromes, that is, fever above 39 °C, of ​​sudden onset, accompanied by muscle pain and difficulty respiratory. Since 1eh January, the circulation of the influenza virus appears to be slowing, with a 26% drop in incidence, as well as a 20 point drop in the positivity rate in outpatient medicine, “but a recovery can be observed after the start of the school year”, the bulletin specifies. In addition, community medicine activity against influenza syndrome remained at a high level of intensity among those aged 65 and over.

Also read: Influenza: the numbers that show how early the epidemic is this season

These symptoms are not specific to the influenza virus that causes the flu, and can also be caused in adults by rhinovirus, the respiratory syncytial virus – particularly responsible for bronchiolitis in infants – or even SARS-CoV-2, whose ninth wave has been waning since mid of December 2022.

“A classic situation in winter”

“We cannot rule out that some of the cases are actually Covid-19 cases, but it is probably a minority phenomenon.assures Sibylle Bernard-Stoecklin, from the department of infectious diseases at the SPF. Viral data [fournies par les tests] in the city and in the hospital has enabled us to realize that our indicators in the emergency room and at SOS-Médecins are still very well correlated with the circulation of the influenza virus. »

In addition, a survey carried out by the SPF among emergency services between November 2021 and March 2022 shows that two thirds of the companies systematically carry out a test in case of influenza-like illness, either through a rapid antigen-type test or by a PCR test, the result of which is given before the patient is printed. A reliable way to ensure contamination with influenza virus.

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