It’s official: Belgium is currently in the grip of the latest influenza epidemic, with the barrier to epidemic status passed for the first time this season just last week, according to research centre Sciensano. An epidemic exists when, for two weeks in a row, 157 flu diagnoses are made per 100,000 of the population – a number which is reviewed every season. In the week of 21 to 27 January, 198 per 100,000 were reported. The number is almost certain to rise in the current week, confirming the declaration of an epidemic.
“We’re just at the start of the epidemic,” Steven Van Gucht of Sciensano told Het Nieuwsblad. “Activity will increase markedly in the coming weeks, and could easily grow by a factor of three or even five. The peak should be reached in about three weeks.”
The first victims have been predominantly children – the usual pattern, as children have more physical contact with each other than adults, which helps the disease to spread. Typically, they are followed by parents, followed by the elderly, for whom the virus is in general more dangerous.
For some reason yet to be determined, the annual flu epidemic in Belgium is arriving later than in neighbouring countries like France and the Netherlands. Scientists think the reason may lie in an increase in the number of flu vaccinations, and also in the mild month of December, which may have delayed the peak activity of the virus.
The symptoms of flu reported to GPs are fever, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, headache, muscle pain and tiredness. An epidemic is an annual event in Belgium, affecting anywhere between 3% and 10% of the population and lasting on average eight weeks. Last year’s epidemic was an exception, continuing above the 157/100,000 mark until mid-April.