The number of cases of the flu is continuing to rise in all age groups and regions in the country, according to the weekly report of the Health Ministry’s Center for Disease Control.
The number of visits to clinics and hospitals due to flu symptoms and pneumonia, which is a common complication, is about 18 per 1,000 people, compared to 7 per 1,000 in the same period last year, says the center. The increase is seen mainly in those under age 2 and over age 65, but there is an increase in other age groups as well compared to previous years. The occupancy rate in hospital children’s wards rose in the past week from 107 percent to 113 percent.
About 90 percent of the samples of flu patients are of the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu. About 30 flu patients, including some children, are in serious condition. Since the beginning of winter 170 Israelis, including 45 children, have been hospitalized in serious condition, and there have been 16 deaths.
Due to media reports about fatalities, there has also been an increase in the demand for vaccinations. Since November about 2 million Israelis, 22 percent of the population, have been vaccinated, compared to 18 percent last year this time. Among those 65 and older, 58 percent were vaccinated, compared to 56 percent last year, and among children aged 6 months to 5 years, 22 percent were vaccinated, compared to 16 percent last year.
In many clinics there is still a shortage of flu vaccines. The largest health maintenance organization, Clalit, with about 4.5 million members, has a few thousand vaccines and is expecting about 30,000 doses to arrive next week. Maccabi Healthcare Services has a few hundred doses of vaccine, and reported the purchase of another 50,000. They will send 30,000 doses to the clinics in the coming days, and another 20,000 at the end of next week.
Leumit Health Care Services has about 10,000 vaccines, and will receive 17,000 doses later this week and another 9,000 next week. Meuhedet Health Services still has about 12,500 doses, with another 14,000 expected to arrive next week. The Health Ministry said that the HMOs have ordered an additional inventory of about 130,000 doses which should arrive gradually in the coming weeks, with the first delivery in about a week and a half.
“As we feared, the flu season this year not only arrived early, but was also more serious than in previous years,” says the chairman of the Public Health Physicians’ Association, Prof. Hagai Levine. “Unfortunately, the continued neglect of the healthcare system by the government and the absence of suitable budgeting, the absence of proper preparation for the winter, and the low priority of health, are taking a toll in human lives. The situation is particularly serious in the area of public health and preventive medicine. The Israeli healthcare system has no reserves, and it is operating with a more serious shortage than usual. There is need for emergency measures and investment in health. We can’t wait for the election.”