Belgium has officially declared a flu epidemic with cases surging to similar levels as COVID-19.
Its national public health institute Sciensano declared this on Wednesday, confirming that all criteria have been met to authenticate the prevailing condition as a flu epidemic.
“The flu has already been back for some time in our country, but now all the criteria are met to be able to talk about a flu epidemic,” the institute said, explaining that a “clear increase” in the number of influenza cases had been observed among general practitioners as well as in laboratory tests and hospitalizations.
In addition to the influenza virus, the bronchiolitis virus, coronavirus and other respiratory viruses that can cause the same symptoms are currently circulating, the institute added.
“We now see about as many flu patients in our hospitals as corona patients,” said Steven Van Gucht, a virologist at Sciensano. “But it is well possible that the number of hospitalized flu patients will take the lead.”
The health care sector is already struggling due to the high cases, but experts predict the worst could be yet to come. The peak is expected in three or four weeks, according to Van Gucht, who added that “it is always possible to get a flu shot.”
Europe’s influenza season kicked off early this year: Hospital admissions due to the illness have been rising since October.
Other countries like Germany and Slovakia had already declared an epidemic and more countries are expected to do so.