Wednesday November 29, 2023
Respiratory tract infections on rise in Finland
Published : 14 Nov 2023, 23:01
Several viruses that cause respiratory tract infections are currently circulating in Finland, said the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in a press release on Tuesday.
In the winter, infections are caused by coronavirus, influenza, rhinovirus, adenovirus and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
Coronavirus is circulating in the population throughout the year. In addition to viruses, bacteria, such as pneumococcus, also cause respiratory tract infections.
"The overall burden on hospitals caused by respiratory tract infections is currently normal for this season. However, the situation at the end of the year and the timing of epidemic peaks in coronavirus and other viruses cannot be assessed with certainty", said Tuija Leino, Chief Physician of THL.
The number of coronavirus infections is rising. The most prevalent variant for this autumn is the Omicron XBB sub-variant EG5. The circulating coronavirus variants are very similar to each other and, according to current information, they do not differ from each other in terms of symptoms.
The RSV and influenza epidemics have not yet started, even though individual cases have been reported to THL’s National Infectious Diseases Register.
It is feared that RSV and influenza infections will increase by the turn of the year. The peak of the influenza epidemic often occurs only after the turn of the year.
Leino said that a mild flu-like disease can be treated at home, regardless of the virus that caused it.
"Please stay home when you’re ill. However, it is difficult to avoid the spread of respiratory tract viruses, as they can be contagious even if there are no symptoms yet,” Leino added.
A small number of patients need hospital care.
"The majority of respiratory tract infection cases that lead to hospitalisation are not confirmed through microbiological testing, or they are caused by a virus other than coronavirus, influenza or RSV", said Leino.
Currently, the number of patients in need of hospitalisation is rising due to coronavirus. In most cases, the patients are older and have multiple illnesses.
All high-fever infections can be fatal to older people or to those with very serious underlying conditions.
They are also more likely to end up in specialised medical care or the inpatient wards of primary healthcare. Some people with a severe underlying disease may need treatment at an intensive care unit due to a normal respiratory tract infection. Respiratory tract infections increase the mortality rates of the most fragile older people every winter.
Old age is the most significant risk factor for a severe coronavirus disease. Even serious infections do not always cause a fever in older people, but the symptoms may include fatigue and a deterioration in overall condition.
Although 65 years is the lower age limit at which age-based influenza and coronavirus vaccinations are offered in Finland and many other countries, people over the age of 85 are at the most significant risk of developing a serious respiratory tract infection and being hospitalised.
"People with underlying conditions who are part of the vaccination target groups have a higher risk of needing inpatient care due to a respiratory tract infection than a healthy person of the same age. However, the risk is usually low compared to the risk for older people. Only diseases and treatments that clearly damage the immune system definitely increase the risk for people of all ages," said Leino.