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Christmas break sees surge in seasonal flu

Hundreds of people attended the emergency department at St Bernard’s hospital over the Christmas period, as Gibraltar – in common with many other countries around Europe – experienced a surge in cases of winter influenza and other flu-like illnesses.

Around 500 people were seen by emergency medical staff between December 22 and December 27, with 12 patients admitted to hospital, eight of them into the critical care unit, according to the Gibraltar Health Authority.

“This increase in influenza cases in Gibraltar is similar to the pattern that is being seen in the UK, where there were as many cases of influenza in the one week before Christmas as there had been in the preceding four weeks,” a GHA spokesman told the Chronicle.

“The increase being seen is mostly seasonal but this year there seems to be an added surge due to infections caused by the Influenza B virus.”

The spokesman added: “Currently, health services are coping well with the surge and the GHA staff have been working hard to make available the medicines and skilled staff required to provide round the clock care.”

According to the GHA, there were 10 Influenza B cases over the five-day period, seven of which were admitted into the Critical Care Unit and three to John Ward.

Two patients with Influenza A were also admitted, one into the Critical Care Unit and the other into John Ward.

The GHA implemented additional infection control procedures to reduce the risk of spread, including restrictions on visiting and the conversion of the left wing of the Critical Care Unit into an influenza bay.

For the past three days, patients in the Critical Care Unit were not allowed visits from relatives so as to minimise the spread of infection.

Staff at John Ward also made provisions for one quarantined cubicle to isolate patients with flu-like symptoms who do not require critical care intervention.

Additional cardiac monitoring facilities have been made available in Dudley Toomey ward if needed and all other exposed patients and staff members are taking the prophylactic flu medicine Tamiflu.

Additional staffing resources have been put into place to address the patients’ complex care needs and the additional demands placed on the GHA’s Critical Care Unit.

“The message to the public is that if your relative has the flu, then you should postpone the visit until he or she has recovered,” the GHA spokesman said.

“As in previous years, it is expected that the surge will be maintained for a few days and then start to diminish.”

“The public health advice to people who have symptoms of flu-like illness is to take bed rest, stay away from work or social settings, drink plenty of fluids and generally see it through.”

“Persons who are eligible for the flu vaccine should undertake vaccination as soon as possible.”

Influenza B infections are known to come in surges every three to four years and its surge appears to have coincided this year.

Influenza B infections produce illnesses that are usually milder than the more common Influenza A.

However they can still cause serious illness, particularly in people with pre-existing diseases and protection against the virus is recommended through vaccination.

The standard flu vaccine contains protection against Influenza B.

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