Today ECDC publishes its risk assessment on the 2012/13 seasonal influenza epidemics in Europe. Epidemics started earlier than in the previous season and western Europe and Scandinavia were the first affected areas. To date, south-western European countries (Spain and Portugal) have been less affected. ECDC advises central and eastern Europe to continue preparing for a similar pattern of transmission and intensity to that seen in western Europe and Scandinavian countries. Overall, this year there is no clear dominance of any particular influenza viruses.
ECDC has produced an annual risk assessment of the seasonal influenza epidemics in Europe since the 2010/11 season following the model developed by ECDC during the 2009 pandemic. It gives an early description of the influenza season in the countries affected earliest, providing guidance and information to countries that are affected later, as influenza progresses across Europe over several months. It describes any specifics of the season, particularly in areas where public health or clinical actions are envisaged, as well as highlights areas of uncertainty where further work is required.
Marc Sprenger, director of ECDC said: “Influenza has to be taken seriously – each year, around 10% of the population is infected and influenza-related complications cause hundreds of thousands of hospitalisations across Europe. ECDC takes this very seriously which is why we work closely with our partners and countries across Europe to gather and share information as quickly as possible. ECDC is thankful to its partners such as WHO Regional Office for Europe and European countries that gather and share information as quickly as possible throughout influenza season. This allows us all to recognise influenza patterns early which gives countries involved the best opportunity to plan resources and hopefully reduce the burden of the disease.”
The proportions of type A and type B viruses have been fairly even. The A(H3N2), A(H1N1) and both lineages of B viruses are all circulating though with different countries reporting different dominant viruses. This pattern differs from what is observed in North America where influenza A(H3N2) viruses have been predominating among the A viruses. In other northern hemisphere countries outside Europe the intensity of influenza activity is high, but heterogeneous.
“ECDC continues to emphasise that all Europeans who are recommended to have the influenza vaccine by their national authorities should get vaccinated”, highlights Marc Sprenger. “VENICE surveys have indicated that the most commonly recommended groups are older people, those with chronic disease, healthcare workers and (in many but not all countries) pregnant women. Immunisation remains the single most effective preventive measure for protection against influenza”.
The risk assessment points out that the main uncertainties in Europe are the impact that the substantial circulation of influenza A(H1N1) will have among younger patients, especially as regards the severity of disease, and if and how circulating B Victoria-lineage viruses might affect vaccine effectiveness.
The vaccine effectiveness of the 2012/13 influenza vaccine is expected to be higher against influenza A(H3) infection than the especially low levels observed in Europe for the 2011/12 season. First indications from the UK confirm this although the estimates are still only in the range of 45% to 55%.
The first affected countries suffered some pressure on primary care and emergency room services in comparison with the same period last year. However, this increased pressure maybe partly due to the fact that the epidemics started before the Christmas and New Year holidays when primary care services scale down in some countries.
Read the full Risk assessment: Seasonal influenza 2012/13 in Europe (EU/EEA countries) (.pdf)
ECDC video blog 'Influenza in Europe: Protect yourself and those around you' (external link)
Weekly Influenza Surveillance (WISO)
Weekly influenza maps
Weekly influenza in Europe at a glance: infographic with key data from previous week’s surveillance data (.jpg)
VENICE (Vaccine European New Integrated Collaboration Effort)