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FLU

France rules out SARS-like virus for two patients

French authorities have reversed earlier claims that two men hospitalized in Tours after returning from Saudi Arabia were infected with a deadly virus formerly known as coronavirus, but now labeled MERS, it emerged on Wednesday.

France rules out SARS-like virus for two patients
MERS seen under an electron microscope. France reported two new suspected cases over the weekend. Photo: British Health Protection Agency/AFP

France's Minister for Health Marisol Touraine on Wednesday announced, “the tests have come back negative,” reversing an announcement by French authorities on Tuesday that two men, recently-returned from Saudi Arabia, had become infected with the virus.

French medical authorities had on Tuesday reported two new suspected cases of infection with the SARS-like virus MERS which has killed more than 30 people worldwide, the bulk of them in Saudi Arabia.

In the latest scare, two men were reported to have been hospitalised in the town of Tours southwest of Paris on Tuesday.

The virus was quickly ruled out as an explanation for the symptoms of one of them and tests cleared the other one.

France has had two confirmed cases of MERS to date, including one which led to a death in the northern town of Lille last month.

In its most recent update on the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on June 7th that there had been 55 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus, 31 of which had resulted in the affected individuals dying.

Previously known as novel coronavirus, the disease was last month renamed Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV.

The WHO believes 26 of the 31 people who have died contracted the virus in Saudi Arabia.

The virus is a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which sparked a global scare in 2003 after jumping to humans from animals in Asia and claiming 800 lives.

Like SARS, MERS appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering from a temperature, cough and breathing difficulty.

But it differs in that it also causes rapid kidney failure and the extremely high death rate has caused serious concern among health experts.

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HEALTH

French pharmacies run out of flu vaccines as demand soars

The annual flu vaccination campaign in France was only launched last week, yet already pharmacies across the country have sold out of doses.

French pharmacies run out of flu vaccines as demand soars
High risk groups such as the elderly are now being prioritised. Photo: AFP

Desperate to avoid hospitals facing the combined pressure of flu patients and Covid-19 patients this winter, the French government launched a greatly expanded flu vaccination programme this year, urging anyone in a risk group to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

But demand has far outstripped what the government anticipated, and just a week after the campaign was launched on October 13th, pharmacies across the country are declaring rupture de stock (sold out) of vaccines. Around 60 percent of pharmacies are reporting shortages of flu vaccine.

Gilles Bonnefond, president of the pharmacists union l' Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine (USPO) told France Info: “We have already vaccinated nearly five million people in less than five days.

“This is almost half of what was done all last year during the entire vaccination campaign.”

In 2019 the flu vaccine campaign was expanded and pharmacies were allowed to administer the vaccine for the first time – that year saw just over 10 million people vaccinated, roughly one sixth of the population.

This year, however, take-up has skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 threat.

“Last week, we sold 51 percent of the doses that we sold all last year”, Pascal Fontaine, purchasing director of the Pharmacie Lafayette group, added.

The government is now asking people who do not fall into priority groups to delay their vaccination so that the most high-risk groups can be protected first.

Anyone who is registered in the French health system and falls into a high risk group is usually contacted by their doctor or assurance maladie inviting them to be vaccinated, with a code to present for a free vaccine.

High risk groups are:

  • Over 65s
  • People with chronic or long-term health conditions
  • People with a BMI of 40 or over
  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with those who cannot be vaccinated, including babies and those who are immunocompromised

However anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be, either by making an appointment with their GP or visiting a pharmacy. For those people the vaccine is free but they will have to pay the standard medical appointment charge for it to be administered.

It is these people that the government is asking to delay getting their jab.

 

The government purchased 30 percent more doses than usual this year, but will now have to order more to cover the higher-than-expected demand.

A spokesman for the health ministry said: “We urge people who do not present a particular risk and who would like to be vaccinated, to postpone their vaccination until early December.”

For more details on high risk groups and the payment system, click here.

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