Updated | Hospital swamped as ‘very bad’ flu season sweeps over Malta

Mater Dei hospital’s accident and emergency department saw visits increase by 15% over the past four days alone from people with flu symptoms, CEO Ivan Falzon says • Influenza activity started to rise just before Christmas

The flu season is more severe than last year's
The flu season is more severe than last year's

Malta’s only general hospital is working at full capacity as it tries to cope with a particularly severe flu season that is sweeping across Europe.

Mater Dei hospital CEO Ivan Falzon said the accident and emergency department was seeing between 20 and 25 flu patients a day more than last year.

“It is very bad, with the A&E department experiencing a 15% increase in patient visits over the past four days alone as a result of complications from influenza,” Falzon said.

In some cases patients were admitted to hospital with chest infections and pneumonia.

Health Minister Chris Fearne sounding the warning
Health Minister Chris Fearne sounding the warning

Falzon said around 43% of patients who visited the accident and emergency department had to be hospitalised.

“This had been predicted early on because the influenza season in Australia and New Zealand had been particularly severe and I have to thank all hospital workers for their sterling service in such conditions,” Falzon said.

Asked for how long the flu season was expected to persist, Falzon said the hospital was anticipating a six to seven week period.

“It is likely to be one big peak season and we are anticipating it to last for another six to seven weeks at uncharacteristically high levels,” Falzon said.

93 cases of flu per 1,000 population

The Health Ministry told MaltaToday that community surveillance showed that influenza activity started to rise during the two weeks before Christmas at the same time that temperatures started to drop. The health authorities recorded an average rate of 93 cases of flu per 1,000 population, the spokesperson said.

"This high level of influenza is expected to continue in the following weeks," she added. The flu season extends from October until May, with last year's flu activity seeing a decrease after the end of February.

Health Minister Chris Fearne had warned last October that this year’s flu season would be quite strong.

In Parliament he had said that based on the scientific evidence from the southern hemisphere, the flu would probably hit some 250,000 people, more than double last year’s. Fearne had also anticipated January will be particularly intense.

The health authorities even embarked on an intensive campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated. The spokesperson said that to date 90,677 persons took the flu vaccine. "This is an all time record with an increase of 19,923 (28%) persons over last season's vaccine uptake," she added.