Two more people have died from complications relating to the flu virus, bringing the death toll of the developing epidemic to 17, the Ministry of Health said Thursday.
Despite the flu season just starting to unfold, at least 167 people have already been hospitalized in a serious condition with complications stemming from the virulent strain, compared to just 56 people last year.
A 40-year-old man was pronounced dead earlier in the day after being admitted to a hospital in critical condition after developing flu complications. The doctors at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer in Tel Aviv said the man did not suffer from any underlying health conditions.
Last week, a one-year-old toddler and two teens - aged 19 and 14 respectively - passed away after suffering complications from the flu virus.
"The flu season is an annual occurrence, so the fact we're dealing with influenza wasn't much of a surprise," said Prof. Itamar Grotto, the Associate Director General of the Ministry of Health. "What is astounding, however, is the rate at which people are contracting the disease, this a clear indicator that the worst is yet to come, so we must prepare ourselves for a harsh winter."
According to Prof. Grotto, the numbers of patients suffering from flu is set to rise over the coming two weeks. "Although I sincerely hope we won't see any more difficult cases, the hospitals must prepare for an influx of patients."
In addition, recent reports have indicated that so far the numbers of Israelis who received their flu shots is significantly lower than in previous years, even though the Ministry of Health have been issuing warnings for months, urging people to get vaccinated at local health maintenance organizations (HMOs).
"Unfortunately, sometimes we need a reminder that the flu can have serious repercussions even for the healthiest of people," said Prof. Grotto, "we try to raise awareness every year, but it seems that the number of vaccinated depends on the level of risk that people feel they would be taking if they don't [get the shot]."
So far only 22 percent of the population received their vaccines, with the flu season expected to peak somewhere between January and February.
When asked whether the low percentage of vaccinated people will result in more flu-related deaths, the professor tried not to evoke panic. "In the meantime, the number of casualties is similar to years prior, but we do have a highly effective vaccine that significantly lowers the chance of contracting the disease and the complications that result from it."
First published: 19:14, 01.02.20