Flu epidemic begins to subside, but strain in hospitals increases | Society

Flu infections, which spiked in the last two weeks of December, have already reached their peak. In the first week of the year, the incidence rate decreased slightly compared to the previous week. But if citizens have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that as infections rise, hospitalizations rise again. And this is happening now: the number of hospitalizations continues to rise, and the pressure on hospitals increases.

According to data published this Thursday by the Charles III Institute of Health, the average incidence rate for all respiratory infections in Spain fell from 966.2 cases per 100,000 inhabitants to 935.1, representing a decrease of 3.2%.

Evolution of acute respiratory infections

Rate per 100,000 inhabitants measured by sentinel systems in the last weeks of 2023 and early 2024.

The drop is most noticeable with the flu, the virus that has spread the most this season. Sentinel health centers (which are a representative sample from which overall data are extrapolated) identified 387.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a decrease of 10%. However, Covid incidence increases slightly to 98.8 cases per 100,000, an increase of 6%. Hospitalizations for all respiratory viruses increased by 9.1%, to 33.5 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents.

Both the distribution of cases and the trend vary greatly by area. Castile-La Mancha, despite a slight decline, continues to be the community with the highest incidence of respiratory viruses (1691.3 per 100,000). Aragon, where they are rising, is now in second place (1338.3), ahead of the Valencian Community (1318.9), where they are falling.

Watching the trends is important because they will determine whether communities should be required to wear masks in health centers, as the Department of Health ordered Wednesday, or whether they can move to simple guidelines. To do this, the Ministry of Health required that they reduce the incidence rate for two weeks in a row.

Andalusia, Asturias, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile and Leon, Extremadura, Galicia and Madrid are autonomies in which the incidence has already decreased in the first week of the year. If this trend continues next week, they will be able to make the mask more flexible in medical centers and hospitals. Both the Basque Country and Melilla saw declines for two weeks in a row, but Carlos III did not update the data.

The Euskadi government has made it mandatory to wear masks, but said it plans to appeal the Health Ministry order because, according to the complaint, there was no prior consent from the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System. there were no hearings of the Autonomous Communities before this decision was made.

Overcoming collapse in medical centers

The data published this Thursday generally reflects the state of medical centers, which no longer show the collapse that was observed during Christmas. In addition to the reduction in morbidity, two other factors intervene: on the one hand, employees who were on leave are restored, which gives them more resources to fight the respiratory virus epidemic. On the other hand, according to Lorenzo Armenteros, spokesman for the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG), patients no longer come as often with “banal” symptoms, in addition to the fact that the use of masks has become the norm.

“There is more fear of going to the centers and more telephone consultations about respiratory processes. Information from the media has proven to be more effective than institutional information,” warns Armenteros, who, however, assures that this does not happen in emergency situations where the level of medical care is very strained.

This statement is confirmed by José Manuel Fandiño, member of the board of directors of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine (SEMES): “It depends on the communities. All have average historical health care demand data, but there are some, like Navarre, where demand for hospitalization due to influenza has increased by about 20% (peak expected in about 7 to 20 days). And others, such as Galicia, with a drop of 10-15% compared to previous weeks.”

Fandiño explains that there is now a greater sense of what health care workers call “the backlog of patients awaiting admission,” that is, those waiting in the emergency department to be transported to their destination floors and services. If this problem is not addressed, emergency care channels “will not be fully functional” and patients will not have “adequate conditions of dignity and confidentiality.” “It’s not that the emergency services are overwhelmed, it’s the hospital,” he concludes.

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