health minister Manuel Pizarro
Health minister Manuel Pizarro finally in 'calmer waters' after an early winter of great discontent within the health service. Image: Lusa

Peak in winter respiratory infections may be passed – health minister

No justification “at moment” to enforce wearing of masks in hospitals

Portugal’s minister of health said today that the peak of respiratory infections this winter may have passed, pointing out that the country is experiencing a period of greater calm compared to the beginning of January.

“Despite everything, today, at the end of January, we are in a calmer situation than we were in the first few days of the year. It’s likely that the peak of this winter’s respiratory infections has passed,” said Manuel Pizarro

At the end of the opening session of the 2nd National Organ Donation Conference, which is taking place today in Coimbra, the minister maintained that, although the situation is calmer, we must continue to monitor the evolution of this winter’s respiratory infections “step by step”.

Asked about the possibility of once again adopting the use of masks in health units, in the face of a resurgence of infectious diseases, the ministerindicated that such a decision depends on the technical recommendation of public health structures.

“I’d say it’s something that will be examined on a case-by-case basis. At the moment, no justification has been found for this need, but it is something that is always being evaluated and that, apart from anything else, may justify attitudes in one health unit or another, without there needing to be general action,” he said.

Pizarro emphasised that all diseases deserve a lot of attention, including infectious diseases, reiterating the importance of vaccination.

“Very recently, we’ve seen cases of measles appear in Portugal, which always have the same characteristic: we’re talking about Portuguese people who are emigrating to other countries, namely other European Union countries, where adherence to vaccination is no longer as high as in our country and this shows the importance of vaccination.” 

In the minister’s opinion, the case of the baby who was treated at Dona Estefânia Hospital in Lisbon and has already been discharged “is a warning to Portuguese parents about the potential seriousness of a measles case”.

“Measles is a disease that can be made to disappear, as long as we maintain the very high levels of adherence to vaccination, which fortunately we still have in Portugal, but which we no longer see in all European countries.”

As for tuberculosis, he recalled that when the SNS national health service began 45 years ago, “there were more than 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants a year; today there are 14 cases per 100,000 inhabitants a year”.

Despite the fact that Portugal registers “far fewer” cases, Manuel Pizarro emphasised the need for the country to pay “greater attention” to tuberculosis, due to the “major demographic change in the country, which has become an immigration destination“.

“I’m confident that we’re able to organise our services in such a way that we can also pay attention to tuberculosis and continue the positive path we’ve been on, avoiding a setback,” he concluded.