By Humphrey Carter SON Dureta hospital has the 'flu epidemic under control after the post-festive flood of patients which for most of this week has stretched hospital services to the limit.

Balearic Health Minister Aina Castillo said that the regional health service has experienced a sharp increase in 'flu patients this week. But she said yesterday that an extra 100 hospital beds have been made available and medical services have been stepped up in order to cope with the epidemic which is not as widespread as in previous years.

Aina Castillo admitted that hospital occupancy is high while the designated team of doctors monitoring the flu epidemic still claims that it has not reached its peak yet. Nevertheless, the health service has the situation under control and is prepared to deal with a further surge in patients.

At the moment, the epidemic is running at 58 cases per 100'000 inhabitants, similar to last year but still one of the lowest rates in Spain where the national average is currently running at 300 flu patients per 100'000 inhabitants.

The Minister said that, so far, doctors have not detected any signs to suggest that the flu strain is any different to previous years. She repeated her plea for people worried that they are showing the first symptoms of 'flu or any other respiratory problem, to first consult their local PAC medical centre before heading to their nearest hospital in order to avoid bringing casualty wings to a standstill.

Aina Castillo also advised the public to fully inform themselves on the symptoms of 'flu and how best to fight the virus.
Symptoms include high fever, cold sweats, headaches, aching muscles, sneezing and a persistent cough. Quite simply, doctors advise plenty of rest, drink plenty of juices and water but do not take antibiotics as the 'flu is a virus and not a bacteria.

The health service is warning that in the case of the elderly or the very young, antibiotics can cause further complications.
The worst epidemic in Spain of recent years was in 1999 when 3.222.231 people went down with the virus.
In 2001 however, there were only 847.975 cases while the annual average over the past seven years has been around the two million mark.