Norway has suddenly emerged as among the countries in Europe hardest hit by the swine flu virus, and authorities don’t know why. The death count rose to 13 on Wednesday and many more flu patients have been admitted to intensive care units in local hospitals.
The latest victims were a woman in her 30s from Oslo and a man in his 20s from Oppland County. State health director Bjørn-Inge Larsen said both died of the swine flu virus and both were in the high-risk category because of chronic illness.
The number of deaths has put Norway at the top of European casualties. “We’re worried about the high number of fatalities in Norway,” Geir Stene Larsen, director of the state health institute Folkehelseinstituttet . “We have a higher fatality rate than our neighbouring countries and it’s a high number also in relation to other European countries.”
He said health authorities don’t know why the death rate is so high, and repeated recommendations that everyone down to the age of six months be vaccinated. The vaccine is supposed to take effect within a week.
The vaccination program started this week, with persons at high risk because of pregnancy or chronic disease given highest priority. Then come persons over age 65. Many health care workers already have been vaccinated.
The rest of the population is supposed to wait until the high-risk groups have been vaccinated. Many local townships have reported a shortage of vaccine, with not enough to go around to all those in the high-risk category. The vast majority may not be able to obtain vaccinations until mid-November.
“We’re aware of the long lines of people wanting vaccinations, and we’re glad so many have decided to be vaccinated,” said Stene Larsen, who earlier had been worried that relatively few Norwegians had intended to get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, added Stene Larsen at a press conference Wednesday, the vaccine has arrived in Norway in much smaller amounts than expected.
Demand for respirators
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that hospitals are filling up with flu patients who need help to breathe, putting heavy demands on respirators and isolation facilities. Health authorities estimate as many as 1,000 Norwegians will need to be hooked up to respirators when flu season peaks later this winter.
It’s only been in the past week that cases of swine flu have jumped. “Earlier, a majority of tests were negative, but now we have many positive results,” said Stene Larsen.
Anyone with flu-like symptoms (muscle aches, headache, fatigue and fever) is advised to simply stay home and avoid contact with other persons. If breathing problems occur, patients are advised to call their doctors immediately.