Immune systems are more vulnerable
Portugal’s flu epidemic caused by the Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 may be particularly out of control due to the fact that the population has not been exposed to this virus for four years, epidemiologist and university professor Manuel Carmo Gomes told Diário de Notícias.
The large number of people who have become sick due to this particular strain of the flu has seen intensive care admissions skyrocket at hospitals, creating an almost “apocalyptic scenario,” according to Visão magazine.
Portugal’s health minister, Manuel Pizarro, has already urged the Portuguese people to only go to A&E departments when “seriously ill” and to preferably contact Portugal’s 24-hour health hotline, Linha SNS24.
“The last time the Portuguese had contact with H1N1 was precisely in the last winter before the pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus (2019-2020), Manuel Carmo Gomes told DN.
“In 2020-2021, there was practically no flu, and in 2022 we had a very mild flu, with the circulation of another type A virus, H2N3. In other words, we had no contact with H1N1 for four years, and immune systems are more vulnerable to the virus, especially in the elderly who may develop other complications, especially if they are not vaccinated,” Manuel Carmo Gomes explained.
While children generally do not suffer complications from this flu, they act as major spreaders, the specialist says.
“Usually they (children) do not have complications, unlike the elderly, but they can easily spread the disease within the family and other groups they are in,” Manuel Carmo Gomes told DN.
He believes that the current flu epidemic is related to the fact that there is “a large number of people who have never come into contact with H1N1 or, having come into contact, no longer have protection or have not even been vaccinated.”
However, Carmo Gomes stresses that what is known so far about H1N1 is that it has undergone mutations, but “it is not possible to say that it is much more aggressive. Symptoms may be more intense; we will all have reports from relatives or friends about this, but there is no systematic survey or a very large sample to compare with other flu viruses,” he added.
Meanwhile, warnings are being made that the peak of the flu epidemic is still to come.