By Humphrey Carter
THE number of 'flu cases has quadrupled in the Balearics during the past week with all the local hospitals and clinics on 'flu alert as winter sets in.

The number of cases in the Balearics is now running at 24 per every 100'000 inhabitants. While this figure is below the current national average of 70 per 100'000 people, the Health Service is standing by for the annual 'flu epidemic.

The Health Service's Director of Epidemics, Antoni Nicolau, said yesterday that the increase in cases over the past week is “significant” although not alarming when compared to other areas of Spain.

However, the next few weeks, in particular the first ten days of January, are going to be crucial for the annual 'flu outbreak when a sharp increase in the number of cases is expected.

Antoni Nicolau said that, in theory, it is during the first few weeks of the year that the 'flu epidemic usually reaches its peak in the Balearics - however last year the epidemic peaked in December with 168 cases per 100'000 inhabitants. This year it appears that the flu strain is slightly weaker than during the past few years across Europe. Antoni Nicolau said that all European countries, apart from Northern Ireland, have reported fewer cases than normal and that in some countries the number of cases is still very low.

COPE
Epidemic or not, he gave assurances yesterday that the Balearic Health Service is more than prepared to cope. Already, clinics and hospitals are busy dealing with patients suffering from colds and bronchitis as well as the first 'flu patients - all the normal symptoms for this time of year. This year a 32-strong team of medical experts is monitoring the 'flu situation. The public are, as every year, asked to only go to hospital casualty wings in the case of emergency. If concerned about showing the first symptoms of 'flu, they should either consult their doctors or visit their local PAC health centre in order to ease the burden on hospital casualty departments and beds. Every year, the flu epidemic leads to bed shortages.

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