Flu season starting to affect senior citizens

Flu season.
Flu season. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

Influenza season in Estonia started last month, and the initial spread in kindergartens and schools may be followed by a rise in cases affecting the elderly, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" (AK) reported Sunday.

While winter is traditional 'flu season, this year, for the first time ever, both pre-schoolers and those aged 60 and over can receive 'flu vaccinations on the state.

The Covid pandemic has had an effect here also, AK reported.

Health Board (Terviseamet) influenza center chief specialist Olga Sadikova told Ak that: "Over those two years, we have seen a lot of people, especially children, who have never encountered the flu virus in their lives.

"As a result, children get sick very quickly nowadays. This does not mean that they are getting seriously unwell, but at the least they are experiencing a high fever," Sadikova went on.

Other than that, the current period represents a fairly standard 'flu season, she said, adding that the H3N1 strain is the predominant virus spreading at the moment.

As for 'flu vaccines developed for this season, it is not yet clear how effective they will be at preventing sickness altogether, though they can prevent severe illness and deaths, Sadikova added.

She said: "The situation can change; a new strain can start to propagate. While H3N1 prevails in Europe, the H1N1 virus strain is predominant in Russia. We are watching developments closely, but currently, just one viral strain is dominant in Estonia."

Sander Poks, head of emergency medicine at the Tartu University Hospital, said that people remaining unvaccinated both against 'flu and against Covid has led to a surge in hospitalization cases and a shortage of places.

Poks said: "We are having to look for places on a daily basis, and the situation is much the same in other hospitals in the southern region; there are quite a few such patients. Dealing with the current situation regarding hospital beds has been quite challenging."

"If we examine who ends up in hospital with both the 'flu and the coronavirus, the common denominator is that people haven't been vaccinated," Poks eent on.

From this autumn, the state will cover the cost of the vaccination of children up to the age of seven, as well as pregnant women; the elderly are now also vaccinated on the state, from age 60.

Eveli Bauer, chief specialist at the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) said: "A total of 131,000 ['flu vaccine] doses have been ordered, while the target groups have slightly different coverage plans, relating to how much can be used. For example, the elderly are allocated at 30-35 percent, mainly from the experience which derives from last year. We ventured to forecast 15 percent for minors, based on the fact that this was taken at less than 5 percent, at a time when vaccines incurred a fee."

There are still nearly 'flu 20,000 doses in stock, AK reported.

Nursing home residents have in any case been receiving vaccinations for several years, AK reported.

This year's 'flu wave began in South Estonia, where the incidence is four times higher than in the rest of the country, the Health Board says.

The price of one 'flu vaccine dose purchased by the state comes to a little over €7, while the stated has spent nearly a million euros on vaccine procurement, AK reported.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

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