Covid, flu, RVS – respiratory diseases are on the rise


If it seems like folks are coughing and sneezing everywhere you go, you’re not alone. Along with the usual cold and flu season, people in the Netherlands are continuing to grapple with Covid and RSV. Should we all prepare ourselves for a winter of dodging those with runny noses?

Sneezing in the cinema. Train passengers fumbling for tissue in crowded carriages. Kids with uncovered coughs at Albert Heijn. Will it be a rough winter for respiratory diseases in the Netherlands, with coronavirus, RVS, flu and pneumonia all currently on the rise?

Things were bustling at the Leiden vaccination centre last week as a crowd of mostly seniors came in for Covid booster and RSV shots. The parking lot was nearly full as the staff guided them to various desks and queues. Other vaccination centres too report being busy.

Covid boosters have largely been limited to those over 60, with a few exceptions for healthcare workers and those with certain health conditions. Flu vaccines are subject to similar restrictions.

According to the public health institute RIVM, 300,438 people around the country received a Covid shot during the week of 6 through 12 November, bringing the total in the autumn round so far to 1,555,833.

But is it enough? “We’re still busy sending invitations this month, so we are not drawing conclusions at the moment,” RIVM spokesman Harald Wychgel told Dutch News.

At the same time, an average of 110 coronavirus patients were admitted to the country’s hospitals each day during the same period and seven went to ICUs.

It is unclear how many people have been killed by coronavirus since the summer. Not everyone is tested and there is no reporting requirement. But according to national statistics office CBS, several hundred more people are dying every week than statisticians had expected and in the third quarter of the year, the excess death rate reached 1,800.

Much of that may be down to coronavirus, but other respiratory diseases are also in circulation.

Other respiratory infections

There have been plenty of headlines about RSV, a respiratory disease that’s mild for most but can be catastrophic for the elderly and newborns. And figures show the number of RSV cases is on the rise, reaching 213 cases in the first week of November, almost double the 2022 figure.

Last week, the AD also reported a “surprising” but “not worrying” rise in youngsters with both lung infections and whooping cough.

“At this time of year, flu and influenza viruses are common,” Nivel researcher Mariëtte Hooiveld told the AD. “There are people who get pneumonia on top of that, but it is striking that the increase is now taking place earlier in the year. The figures are higher than in the years before the Covid pandemic.”

Autumn diseases

As for flu and rhinovirus (the cause of most common colds), they’re also on the rise, but Wychgel said that’s typical for this time of year.

“Based on the statistics of people going to the doctor with flu-like symptoms, there has been an increase a little bit, but it’s not an epidemic phase,” he said. “There’s a lot of rhino right now, but after all, it is the season of airway infections.”

So will the winter months ahead be fairly normal or a minefield for those who dread having their wintertime plans interfered with by illness? For the time being at least, things are fairly normal. Wychgel was unable to provide any sort of prediction.

“We don’t do a forecast,” he said.

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