French hospitals cancel operations amid brutal flu epidemic
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French hospitals have been asked to postpone non-urgent operations as a brutal flu epidemic swamps emergency rooms across the country.
French Health Minister Marisol Touraine on Wednesday said the death toll for the 2016/2017 flu season would probably be “high” and that an unusually large number of people were “seriously ill”.
“We absolutely have to make sure there are enough hospital beds available,” she said. The epidemic is expected to peak next week.
“Emergency rooms are at breaking point,” François Braun, head of France’s Samu-Urgences de France ambulance group, told AFP on Wednesday. “All regions of France are affected.”
Christophe Prudhomme, head of the CGT union division representing emergency room medical staff, said flu sufferers, the vast majority of whom are elderly, were sometimes waiting “24 hours on stretchers” for treatment, resulting in a large number of “preventable deaths”.
“Already stretched, hospitals are in no position to assure a normal service when there is a flu epidemic,” he said.
High number of hospitalisations
On Saturday, the health ministry ordered an investigation into the deaths of 13 residents at a retirement home in Lyon, where 72 of the 110 residents had contracted the flu.
This year’s epidemic marks the return of a type A(H3N2) virus, similar to the virus that claimed 18,000 lives in France in the 2014/2015 flu season. There are no figures yet for mortality rates for 2015/2016.
The A(H3N2) does not attack the lungs in the same way as the far more dangerous A(H1N1) strain.
However, it can lead to bacterial infections or worsen existing conditions, such as heart disease and respiratory problems.
Dr Daniel Levy-Bruhl, who is head of the respiratory infections unit at the French National Agency for Public Health (which reports to the health ministry), told AFP: “This virus does not usually attack the lungs directly, as would the [far more dangerous] H1N1 virus. Rather, it can lead to complications in people who already have serious health conditions.
“This is why, since the beginning of the epidemic in December, the number of flu cases is not unusual, but the proportion of patients hospitalized is much higher.”