Flu epidemic kills 1,100 in France but worse to come

The flu epidemic that has gripped every region of France has already killed 1,100 people and has not yet reached its peak, health officials have warned.

Flu epidemic kills 1,100 in France but worse to come
12,000 people went to emergency wards in France last week for flu symptoms. Photo: AFP

“All the indicators (of the spread of flu) are rising – consultations of general practitioners, visits to emergency wards, hospitalisations,” said the latest report from the national health authority, Santé Publique France.

It said that initial estimations of the number of deaths attributed to flu were around 1,100 from the time that statistics were first gathered on the epidemic last October until the third week of this year.

Santé Publique had already warned last week that the whole of metropolitan France and the island of Corsica had been classified at “epidemic” level for the flu virus.

Its latest report, which grimly noted that the peak of the epidemic has “probably not yet been reached”  was even more cause for alarm.

READ ALSO: Flu epidemic hits every region in France

“We also note that there has been a major increase in people visiting emergency wards and being hospitalised for flu,” it said.

“Among the 12,000 patients who presented at emergency wards for flu last week, more than 1,800 were hospitalised (a 70 percent increase on the previous week),” it said.

Those over 75 years of age were the biggest group hospitalised, making up 43 percent of the total, with the under-fives the second largest group at 15 percent.

For flu levels to be classified as epidemic, there have to be 350 cases for every 100,000 people.

The usual symptoms of la grippe as it's called in French, are feverishness and chills, a cough, sore throat, headache, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, and more often in children vomiting and diarrhea.

However the flu can have life-threatening complications among the elderly and people with preexisting conditions.


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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.