ECDC warns of significant pressure on health systems from surge in respiratory viruses

Europe’s disease watchdog says RSV is higher and earlier this year, flu is early and Covid may be having a resurgence

Healthcare systems in Ireland and other EU states are at high risk of significant pressure due to the current rise in respiratory viruses, the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) has warned.

States should reinforce their health services and prioritise support for healthcare workers, as well as prioritising the vaccination of at-risk groups for flu and Covid-19, it has advised.

Several EU states have recorded a rise in hospitalisations of children due to RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) causing bronchiolitis, with flu and Covid also circulating, the ECDC said.

Ireland has experienced record numbers of RSV cases and hospitalisations, though both may have peaked.


While RSV infections are not unusual at this time of year, they have been higher and earlier than pre-pandemic, the ECDC said. Europe is also experiencing an early flu season and “possible resurgence” of Covid.

“The end-of-year festive season is associated with activities such as social gatherings, shopping and travelling, which pose significant additional risks for transmission of RSV and other respiratory viruses,” said Andrea Ammon, ECDC director.

“Reinforcement of healthcare systems and support of healthcare workers should be prioritised due to the risk of severe pressure on our healthcare systems in the coming weeks and months. Vaccination against influenza and Covid-19 should also be a priority among risk groups.”

The ECDC is also warning of the risk of staff shortages in the health service due to sick leave resulting from the co-circulation of so many viruses.

“Maintaining an adequate ratio of staff to patients, especially in ICUs, is critical to maintaining patient safety and quality of care. In order to manage the expected higher number of cases, an increase in capacity should be considered and re-assessed frequently according to the epidemiological situation.”

It says EU member states have several options including the promotion of vaccinations against flu and Covid and increasing awareness among health staff of the need for timely diagnosis of cases and enhance hospital preparedness, especially in children’s hospitals, ICUs, and long-term care facilities.

Other options include implementing appropriate infection prevention and control measures, especially for vulnerable groups, and ensuring RSV prophylaxis for high-risk infants.

The number of patients with Covid in Irish hospitals jumped significantly from 351 on Saturday to 421 on Monday. However, ICU numbers remain stable: just six patients with Covid were in ICU at the weekend, the joint lowest figure for two years; this increased to 10 on Monday.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times