Influenza season underway in WHO European Region

WHO/Cassandra Win Butu

There are increased levels of influenza (also called flu) activity in 29 Member States of the WHO European Region. As is typical, this year’s epidemic started in western countries: France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. Countries have also reported flu -related deaths, especially among older people.

 “The A(H3N2) virus is dominating so far this season, and we already know this subtype causes severe disease in the elderly,” explains Dr Caroline Brown, programme manager for influenza and other respiratory pathogens at WHO/Europe. “Clinicians should be aware that the A(H3N2) component of this year’s vaccine will most likely provide somewhat reduced protection. So it’s especially important to follow WHO guidelines on the use of influenza-specific antivirals when treating patients and also control or prevent outbreaks that can occur in nursing homes.”

Vaccination still worth while

“Although the vaccine we have this year is not a perfect match, it’s still the best chance people have of getting protected,” continues Dr Brown. “In other words, it might not stop you getting flu but it could mean you are not as unwell as you might have been if you were not vaccinated.”

WHO recommends vaccination against seasonal flu, especially for people in risk groups:

  • those aged over 6 months with certain chronic diseases;
  • elderly people;
  • residents of institutions for people who are older or disabled; and
  • children aged 6–59 months.

WHO also strongly recommends that health care workers be vaccinated to protect themselves and their patients.

What to do if you have flu

  • If you think you have flu, get some rest and drink plenty of fluids. 
  • You can help prevent the disease from spreading by keeping away from other people; stay at home and rest.
  • When you sneeze or cough, use a tissue; then throw it away and wash your hands.

Antiviral medication can help

WHO recommends that people in risk groups who have flu symptoms should receive antiviral drugs. Flu-specific antivirals such as oseltamivir and zanamivir are effective.