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HEALTH

Flu and bronchitis reach epidemic levels in France

New figures point to epidemic levels of flu and bronchitis among the French population - adding extra strain on a health system already dealing with 200,000 new Covid cases per day.

Flu and bronchitis have reached epidemic levels in parts of France
Flu and bronchitis have reached epidemic levels in France - the last thing that hospitals need right now. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

Winter illnesses like flu and bronchitis are surging in France. 

“There will be impacts on hospitals from flu this year. It is obvious,” said Health Minister, Olivier Véran, in the National Assembly on Wednesday. 

Santé publique France said on Wednesday that there had been an increase in flu indicators, particularly among children. 

The number of people seeking medical help for flu symptoms increased by up to 52 percent over the course of the week, with nearly 3,000 people attending emergency care clinics with flu. 

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It said that two French regions, the greater Paris Île-de-France region and Occitanie in the south, were experiencing epidemic levels of flu, while the number of regions facing pre-epidemic levels has doubled over the space of a week. The French overseas territories of La Réunion and Mayotte are also experiencing epidemic levels of flu. 

Source: Santé Publique France
 

0-4 year olds and the over 65s have been the worst affected so far and 32 people have been admitted into intensive care units with flu since the season began in October. 

As for bronchitis, cases and hospitalisations appear to be falling compared to last week but thousands of children under the age of two attended emergency wards with bronchitis last week.  The whole of mainland France is experiencing epidemic levels of the illness. 

Santé Publique France recommends that if your child is less than six months old, was born prematurely, has cardiac or respiratory problems, drinks less than half of their milk at three consecutive feedings, vomits systematically, coughs more than usual, doesn’t sleep and cries more than usual, you should take them to an emergency ward. You can read full guidelines here. Hospitalisation is rarely necessary. 

Bronchitis is generally spread through coughing and saliva. 

The reason for a resurgence of bronchitis and the flu is thought to be because as a general population, mask wearing and other barrier gestures mean we have lost some degree of collective immunity. 

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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