Some 225,000 people in Italy spent the Christmas holidays in bed with flu, the Healh Insitute, Istituto di Sanità (ISS) said on Thursday, meaning the total number of cases has now reached 1,587,000 in total.
The first flu-related deaths and admissions to intensive care for acute respiratory infections were also reported In the week of December 16-22. Three people are reported dead.
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The worst-affected parts of Italy are the northern regions of Valle d'Aosta, Lombardy, and Friuli Venezia Giulia, as well as Emilia-Romagna, Marche and Abruzzo in the centre-north, according to according to data from Influnet and FluNews Italia compiled by ISS.
The incidence across Italy in total is “equal to four cases per thousand patients”, according to ISS.
Among children under five years old the figure is up to three times higher.
ISS said the number of cases so far points to “similar to that of the last flu season”, which was the worst in 14 years, affecting some eight million people and killing 30.
Flu season is expected to peak in January as people go back to school and work after the Christmas and New Year break, experts said.
“With the resumption of full school and office activity, an increase in influenza cases is expected from next week,” Giovanni Maga, director of the Molecular Virology laboratory at the Pavia National Research Council, told Italian newspaper Il Quotidiano.
“At the moment the trend is completely similar to last season. But the viruses are unpredictable and a more precise estimate can be obtained in the coming weeks,” he said.
“It is still advisable to get vaccinated, for those who have not yet done so.”
Flu vaccines are recommended by the Italian health ministry for adults and children with certain health conditions, anyone aged over 65, and pregnant women due to the increased risk of serious complications caused by the virus, the ministry states on its website.
The flu vaccine is available free of charge in Italy, and you can find out more from your local GP or pediatrician.
Flu symptoms typically include the sudden onset of high fever, cough and muscle pain, according to the Health Ministry's website. Other common symptoms include headache, chills, loss of appetite, fatigue and sore throat.
Most people recover from flu within a week or ten days, but some people are at a greater risk of more serious complications or worsening of their underlying condition.
Find out more on the Italian Health Ministry's flu website.