Flu casualties increase

Hospitals in affected areas are banning visits to stop the disease

The influenza outbreak in the Czech Republic has had nine fatalities as of Jan. 6, according to a report by the State Health Institute (SZÚ). Six of the fatalities were in the Vysočina region, two in the Olomouc region and one in Prague. There are also 35 cases categorized as severe. Most of the patients are over 60 years old.

Authorities say that the number of cases of acute respiratory problems related to the flu rose drastically at the end of last week, and the country is facing an epidemic.

The state has banned the export of the flu medicine Tamiflu to ensure that there is enough of a domestic supply. Right now the supply is adequate, but it might not be if it is diminished by exports to other flu-hit countries.

Most cases have been reported in the South Moravia, Moravia-Silesia, Olomouc and Vysočina regions. Most patients, some 3,479 per 100,000 inhabitants, are children under 5 years of age. The fastest increase has been in people over 60 years of age.

To keep the flu from spreading, hospitals are starting to restrict visits to patients. Most hospitals and elderly care facilities in the Olomouc and Vysočina regions have banned or restricted visits. The bans on visits is continuing to expand. Places in the Moravia-Silesia are starting to have bans, and the Pardubice region, which borders on three flu-affected regions, has stopped visits as a preventive measure. The Zlín region, also bordering on the flu area, has started bans and will add more on Friday. Several hospitals in South Bohemia have or are in the process of implementing bans on visits.

The number of people with acute respiratory diseases related to the flu has risen considerably in the first week of January to 1,528 patients per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a 49 percent increase over the end of December. During the Christmas holidays, people affected by flu mostly just stayed home, though, which distorts the statistics. Compared to the week before Christmas, the rise in cases in the first week of January was 12 percent, according to experts.

The flu outbreak this winter season has arrived earlier than usual, as normally it is at the end of January. The flu is caused by a virus. Symptoms can include a high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains, headache, coughing and feeling tired. Complications may include viral pneumonia, secondary bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, and worsening of previous health problems such as asthma or heart failure.

Since influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics have no effect. Antiviral medication may be effective, if given early. People with the flu should get plenty of rest, drink plenty of liquids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco and, if necessary, take medications such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) to relieve the fever and muscle aches. Children and teenagers with flu symptoms should avoid taking aspirin during an influenza infection, as this can lead to a rare liver condition called Reye's syndrome.

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