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French health chiefs on alert as south west hit by flu epidemic

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French health chiefs on alert as south west hit by flu epidemic
Photo: AFP
11:44 CET+01:00
The southern French region of Occitanie is officially in the "grippe" of a flu epidemic, according to health authorities after the number of cases has rocketed.
The conclusion was reached by public health authorities Santé Publique France whose latest bulletin on flu ("grippe" in French) outbreaks in France has classed Occitanie red, meaning Occitanie has reached the level of "epidemic".
 
Meanwhile, all other regions have been classed orange, meaning that they are in a "pre-epidemic" level except the island of Corsica and Pay de la Loire in western France. 
 
So far the flu has led to more than 2,500 emergency room visits, with 89 people hospitalised and three deaths. 
 
The "epidemic" stage of the flu has hit France later this winter than the previous two years however health authorities have said there was nothing particularly exceptional about this. 
 
"The beginning of the spread of the virus, with a first region in 'epidemic' at the beginning of January is nothing exceptional when one looks at the epidemics of the past 10 years," flu expert Sibylle Bernard-Stoecklin told BFM TV. "All epidemics arrive between November and March."
 
Vaccines
 
This year, according to authorities, people have mostly been hit by the A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2). 
 
Doctors say it is still too early to find out exactly how effective the vaccine has been but have said that more people have been immunised this year. 
 
"Certainly, the increase in immunization coverage is good news," said Bernard-Stoecklin.
 
Health authorities estimate 540,000 more people at risk (the over 65s, those who are chronically ill and pregnant women) were vaccinated for flu by November 30th 2018 compared to the previous winter. 
 
Health authorities have advised those at rise who have not yet been vaccinated to do so.
 
However a higher demand this year has made this difficult for some people. 
 
The lack of available vaccines this year which has occurred despite health authorities making sure 10 percent more vaccines were available compared to the previous winter.
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