'Flu cases on rise,' says doctor, as Israel reports nearly 300 in hospital

Doctors have been worried that fewer people will get vaccinated against the flu this year because of a feeling of ‘vaccine fatigue’ from having taken three COVID shots in the last year.

 Empty beds in the intensive care unit at the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Empty beds in the intensive care unit at the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Israel is seeing a high number of people hospitalized with influenza, the Israel Center for Disease Control (ICDC) has reported.

According to the data, since flu season began last month, 280 patients have been hospitalized and another 20 checked into other clinics.

The majority of the patients were infected with influenza A/H3, which is included in the flu vaccine.

Around this time in 2019, just before corona entered Israel, about 100 people were hospitalized with the virus and 11 had died. Last year, Israel did not see a single case of flu in the country, likely due to lockdowns and other restrictions that were in place because of COVID-19.

“It does not matter if this is more or fewer patients than in years prior,” stressed Dr. Avishay Elis, head of the Internal Medicine Department at Beilinson Hospital. Doctors suspect there are many more people infected with flu than reported, he said – people who were admitted to the hospital for respiratory difficulties but were not screened for the virus.

 Head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis receives her flu vaccine on October 17, 2021 (credit: HEALTH MINISTRY) Head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis receives her flu vaccine on October 17, 2021 (credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)

“It is much more than the zero we had a year ago – and what is very, very clear right now is that cases are on the rise,” Elis said. “We think the trend is only going up.”

Maccabi Health Services reported Friday that the fund has seen a “moderate increase” in the rate of people coming into their clinics with flu symptoms, mainly in people ages newborn to five years and 12 to 64.

Doctors have been worried that fewer people will get vaccinated against the flu this year because of a feeling of “vaccine fatigue” from having to take three COVID vaccine shots in the last year.

So far, Maccabi said that 17% of its clients have been vaccinated against the flu virus, and Meuhedet reported that 12.6% had gotten the shot. A spokesperson for Leumit said that 75,000 had been jabbed out of 720,000 members – about 10.4%. Clalit said 790,000 had received the flu shot out of some 4.6 million members, or about 17%.

In September, when Israel launched its flu vaccination campaign, experts warned that the virus would arrive early and hit hard and that it could pose a burden on the health system, which at the time was struggling under the weight of some 700 severely ill COVID-19 patients. Since then, however, the number of those seriously ill has dropped to less than 100.

The country’s current influenza patients are diverse, ranging in age from children, adolescents and young adults to older citizens, the ICDC said.

The flu virus can cause serious illness, in some ways similar to COVID-19, including pneumonia and other respiratory complications.

“The vaccine is recommended for the entire population from the age of six months and up,” ICDC said. “The population at risk for more severe morbidity includes pregnant women, children under five, individuals over the age of 50 and especially over 65, and people with chronic diseases or who are immunocompromised.”

The flu vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot cause flu.

It can be given alongside the coronavirus vaccine, the Health Ministry has said.