Flu bug tightens its grip

DUE TO an increased number of patients arriving at accident and emergency departments and an alert received from Hospital Amadora-Sintra, the Direcção-Geral de Saúde (DGS), the national health authority, was forced to call an emergency meeting this week.

Flu epidemics within some of Portugal’s schools have obliged teachers to call for their temporary closure and, according to data monitored by the Centro Nacional de Gripe (CNG), the national flu centre, there are currently 166 cases per 100,000 people. After analysing theoutbreak, alongside specialists from the CNG, the national health authority has confirmed that the country is currently seeing an increase in the number of flu cases. However, it also says that the situation, so far, is not unusual for the time of year.

DGS assistant director, Francisco George, emphasised that, for the time being, “there are no reasons to issue a full scale alert”.

No seating for waiting patients

Although it is too early to be certain, reports that emergency departments at many hospitals around the country are in a state of chaos do appear to relate to the flu outbreak. Patients are having to wait at hospitals for many hours and, often, there is insufficient seating available.

It was Hospital Amadora-Sintra that raised the alarm, notifying the DGS that, since last Saturday, there has been a 20 per cent increase in patients arriving at the casualty unit, the majority of which are experiencing symptoms relating to respiratory infections. On one day alone, 525 people arrived at the accident and emergency department for treatment, when the normal figure is around 350. At the Hospital de S. Francisco Xavier in Lisbon, patient numbers during the weekend also increased suddenly to 340,80 more than the average 260. The total number of patients is now 40 per cent over the hospital’s capacity, according to its director, Mariete Pires, who claims this is mainly due to the number of old people with respiratory illnesses. “The situation is bad, but it is no worse than last year,” she said, as apparently the hospital was forced to operate at 70 per cent beyond its capacity last year and the influx of patients suffering from viral infections started much earlier.

Public appeal

A similar scenario has unfolded at hospitals and health centres throughout Portugal over the past few weeks, forcing hospitals to request the media to reinforce the message to the general public not to go to the hospital unless their condition is very severe. In the first instance, patients are asked to telephone the Public Health Line (808 211 311) for advice on how to combat their illness.