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HEALTH

French health authorities recommend monkeypox vaccination for certain groups

Monkeypox cases are slowly rising in France, prompting the health authority to recommend vaccination for certain groups.

French health authorities recommend monkeypox vaccination for certain groups
Photo by BAY ISMOYO / AFP

The French health authority Haute autorité de Santé (HAS) reported two more cases of monkeypox (known as variole du singe in French) on Tuesday, bringing the total number of people of confirmed cases in France to five.

The patients are in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France (3 cases), Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Occitanie. The authorities said the cases were reported among men who have sex with men, confirming a Europe-wide trend.

More than 170 monkeypox cases have now been confirmed outside Africa, where the disease is endemic, in a dozen European countries (Spain, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands) but also in Australia, Canada and the USA.

The French HAS has recommended a vaccination strategy that would include giving vaccines to contact cases for monkeypox patients who are at high risk – including healthcare workers.

Existing vaccines such as the third-generation smallpox vaccine are effective against monkeypox.

The HAS recommendations are advisory and the decision lies with the French government. Health minister Brigitte Bourguignon indicated to RTL that they would be following the HAS advice, and that stocks of vaccine were already available in France.

She added that this would be a targeted vaccination for contact cases, not a pass vaccine rollout as seen during the Covid pandemic. 

Monkeypox is a rare disease, similar to smallpox, but less dangerous. It can be transmitted from animals to humans or directly between humans who are in close contact. The symptoms are less severe than smallpox, and include fever, headache, muscle pain, back pain. 

Later, rashes, lesions, pustules and finally scabs can appear. There is no treatment for monkeypox which usually heals spontaneously with symptoms lasting 14 to 21 days.

The risk of contagion is very low according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), but rises in people with multiple sexual partners. 

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HEALTH

More than prescriptions: 10 things you can do at a French pharmacy

From getting first aid and medical advice to taking tests, buying cosmetics and getting your mushrooms checked - there's a surprising amount you can do in a French pharmacy.

More than prescriptions: 10 things you can do at a French pharmacy

Pharmacies are common place in France, with their bright green signs that illuminate many of country’s street corners, but you might not have realised how multi-functional they are.

While you won’t be able to buy snacks or sandwiches at the pharmacy (French pharmacies are not akin to corner shops as some are in the US and UK), they are not just for picking up your latest prescription or buying a box of bandaids.

There are several different things you can do at French pharmacies, and luckily for you, there are a lot of them.

In fact, France is home to about 21,000 pharmacies, according to data from 2017, with about 33 pharmacies per 100,000 people.

The pharmacists who run these establishments are also highly-qualified people, who are able to provide a wide range of services besides simply giving you your medicine. Most have done around six to seven years worth of schooling, and they are generally the best place to start if you are looking for some routine medical assistance. By law, all French pharmacies must have at least one fully qualified pharmacist on the premises.  

Here are all the things you can do there;

Get your wild mushrooms checked

If you are out foraging for mushrooms, and you want to err on the side of caution, then simply take your haul to the pharmacy. All pharmacists in France receive training in mycology – or the study of fungi – so they are qualified to tell you whether a mushroom is toxic or not. This will certainly help prevent any unforeseen disasters when cooking your next “gratin de champignons.”

Get your latest vaccination (not just a flu or Covid shot)

Previously, getting a regularly scheduled vaccination in France – like one for tetanus or Hepatitis – could be time consuming as you needed to visit your doctor for a prescription, get the prescription from the pharmacy and then take it back to the doctor who would actually administer the injection. Only vaccines for seasonal flu, Covid-19 and monkeypox could be administered by pharmacists, but as of November 7th that changed.

Pharmacists became authorised to administer vaccines and boosters, as required, for the “human papillomavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, invasive pneumococcal infections, hepatitis A and B viruses, meningococcal serogroups A, B, C, Y and W and rabies.”

Nevertheless – all of the newly authorised vaccines still require a prescription, which patients (who must be over the age of 16) will need to show proof of prior to vaccination.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why does France have so many pharmacies?

Receive medical advice 

Picked up a stomach bug while visiting France? Got a cough that just won’t go away? Or cut your hand and unsure whether you need stitches? The pharmacy might be the best place to visit first. French pharmacists are all trained professionals, and they are qualified enough to let you know whether you are suffering from something that will require further medical attention, or whether your treatment can be found in the pharmacy itself. 

So, if you have any confusion around whether you should see a doctor, go to a hospital, or simply take some paracetamol and rest, the French pharmacist is a great person to ask. 

While pharmacy hours vary, there will always be at least one “pharmacie de garde” open all day and night near you. Simply google pharmacie de garde along with your location to see where it can be found.

Get over-the-counter medicines

In France over-the-counter medications such as indigestion medicines, cold and flu remedies and general painkillers like Tylenol or Nurofen (usually sold under the brand name Doliprane in France) are only available in pharmacies.

Supermarkets and other general stores are banned from selling them. 

Buy cosmetics

When walking into the pharmacy, you might also notice a giant wall of skincare items. From face washes to lotions and serums, you will be able to pick through many different hygiene items. Next you might turn to the perfume section, where several fancy-looking glass bottles line the shelves. If you are out of mascara or eye-liner, you can find that at the pharmacy too. 

Don’t be afraid to ask the pharmacist’s advice too – if you are worried a certain face wash would be bad for dry skin, the pharmacist will likely be able to point you in the right direction.

Receive care

Many pharmacists across France are able to carry out basic first aid. If you need help bandaging a cut or scrape, have a nasty burn that needs dressing or assistance with your blood pressure monitoring, then you can always walk into a pharmacy and ask for help.

Additionally, if you are looking for help with how to take the medication prescribed – for instance with administering your own insulin injection – pharmacists are trained to help.

If it’s beyond their level of expertise, they will also be able to direct you to the best place to go. 

Buy homeopathic medicines

French pharmacies do not only contain conventional medicines – most have a wide variety of vitamins and homeopathic remedies as well. From vitamins and supplements like cod liver oil to essential oils to neti pots to help clear your nose, French pharmacies carry plenty of alternative, natural treatments too. 

You could also find a remedy for the distinctly French malady of ‘heavy legs’

Prescribe (some) medications

In France, pharmacists are able to prescribe medications for a few specific conditions. First, pharmacists are permitted to issue renewals for medication against seasonal allergies, in patients aged 15 to 50 years old.

Next, they can perform short consultations and prescribe medicine for cold sores, eczema, and conjunctivitis.

If you are a woman aged 16 to 65 and you are experiencing a urinary tract infection, then the pharmacist can also prescribe treatment for you, under certain conditions. As long as the UTI is not recurrent and you do not have a fever or lumbar pain, then the pharmacist may be able to provide you with an antibiotic treatment.

READ MORE: Why do the French love medication so much?

Finally, depending on a patient’s pain and how well they are recovering to an illness or procedure, pharmacists are also authorised to adjust the dosage of some treatments, such as anti-inflammatory drugs.

Perform certain tests

As of January 1st, 2022, pharmacists in France have been able to perform strep throat (angine in French) tests. This consists of a small swab of the throat to verify whether the illness is viral or bacterial, in an effort to avoid the over-prescription of antibiotics. However, you will want to ask your pharmacist if they have the materials to perform the test, because not all pharmacies keep them on hand. 

You can also get a Covid-19 test at French pharmacies, usually without having to make an appointment.

Return extra medications you have lying around

Expired or unused medicines can be returned to your nearest pharmacy – all pharmacies in France are required to take back this medication. You can either give the medicine directly to your pharmacist, or in some cases you can drop them in the dedicated box for these purposes. 

This is actually a recommended practice, as most medicines should be disposed of in a specific manner.

You don’t need to bring back the packaging or instructions along with the medication – simply take the treatment itself.

Keep in mind you won’t be able to return used syringes and needs, or aerosols and sprays, or cosmetic products.

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