Despite the generally mild winter – especially in January – general hospitals have in the past few weeks felt the brunt of influenza complications.

Many of the internal medicine and pediatric departments around the country are overflowing with patients.

Overcrowding in the hospitals led to the spread of even more nosocomial (in-house) infections.

Less than one-fifth of the population has gone to health fund clinics for free flu shots, even though the Health Ministry recommended them after the High Holy Days in the autumn for all people over the age of six months. About half of the highest-risk individuals – those over the age of 65 – have gotten their shots, but the vaccination rate remains low. Even many hospital and community clinic physicians and nurses don’t get the vaccinations, although they are recommended by managements.

The ministry has reluctantly admitted in recent years that the public gives officialdom less credibility and is less willing to roll up its sleeves for lifesaving vaccinations it recommends, from polio to the flu. Hundreds of patients with weak immune systems die each winter from complications of the flu, even though many of them could be saved by getting vaccinated.

As of two weeks ago, only 380,000 people had gotten their flu shots – out of a population of eight million (excluding newborns). There is also Flumist, a nasal spray vaccine, for certain ages, for which sometimes a fee is charged.

The health funds still have a large supply of flu shots, so residents who have not been vaccinated should go immediately – even though it takes a few weeks until the antibodies build up to offer protection.

In the meantime, avoid crowded areas, stay away from people who cough and sneeze, air out rooms and wash your hands frequently with soap and water.

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