Why health experts in Norway are more worried about flu than new Covid-19 variants 

Health experts in Norway have said that they are concerned about the spread of influenza this autumn and winter.

Why health experts in Norway are more worried about flu than new Covid-19 variants 
This is why experts are worried about this years flu season. Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels

The experts say they are more apprehensive about the upcoming flu season this year than Covid variants, warning that the country could see more deaths and patients hospitalised than in normal years. 

“We are probably more worried about the possible return of the flu than about any new coronavirus variants now through autumn and winter. The vaccines against Covid-19 seem to protect very broadly against the variants we are currently aware of,” Karoline Bragstad, a virologist at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), told public broadcaster NRK

This year’s flu season has got health experts bracing themselves because strict infection control measures last winter aimed at curbing the spread of Covid had the knock-on effect of dramatically reducing influenza cases in Norway. 

And while on the surface, this may seem like good news, overall, it means that immunity in the population is much lower than in regular flu seasons. 

In a typical season, it’s estimated that around 900 people in Norway die and 5,000 are hospitalised because of seasonal flu, but this year experts fear the number could be much higher. 

“If we get a strong spread of flu this winter, then we fear that it may become more serious than we are otherwise used to,” Bragstad explained. 

READ ALSO: What parents should know about mass Covid-19 testing in Oslo schools

Espen Nakstad, assistant director of health at the Norwegian Directorate of Health, has also raised concerns over the upcoming flu season and said that the season’s severity would depend on people staying at home when they are sick. 

“The flu season will depend, among other things, on how good we are at staying home when we are sick. But, at the same time, we will also be affected by other countries in Europe and how good they are at the same thing, “he told NRK. 

This year the NIPH has ordered more than 1.8 million flu jabs which will arrive in Norway in September and October. From October, municipalities will begin inviting people to flu vaccinations.

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WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”