Seasonal influenza situation in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region

The Eastern Mediterranean Region is well into the influenza season (2022–2023), with surveillance data showing a downward trend over the past 15 weeks after an initial surge in influenza cases. Countries need to maintain their influenza surveillance systems and monitor influenza activities as the trend could reverse.

Editorial note

Seasonal influenza is a significant global health burden. Every year, influenza causes between 3 million and 6 million severe illnesses and up to 650 000 deaths worldwide.

In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, an estimated 2000 to 12 000 influenza associated deaths occur annually.

Following the past two consecutive seasons (2020–2021 and 2021–2022) of low influenza activity, the current influenza season (2022– 2023) started with a rapid upsurge of cases across the Region in line with the global predictions by scientists and modelers.

However, after the initial surge, the number of cases quickly started declining since epidemiological week 43, 2022 (See Fig 1). The overall trend of seasonal influenza activity in the Region is consistent with the global trend (See Fig 2). While this downward trend is notable, influenza is unpredictable and the current downward trend may reverse.

Therefore, countries need to continue monitoring the influenza situation, specifically, focusing on both epidemiological and virological data to detect cases caused by any novel influenza sub-types.

Seasonal influenza affects people of all ages.

However, young children (<5 years of age) and older people (65+ years) are at greater risk of influenza infection and severe outcomes (See table). Other high-risk groups are pregnant women, healthcare workers and persons with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Vaccination is the most effective control measure against seasonal influenza.

During January 2023, 24 446 potential influenza cases were enrolled, of which 23 896 were tested for influenza (98%), of which 2725 specimens (11%) were positive. Of the influenza-positive specimens, 796 (29%) were influenza A (H1N1) pdm09, 674 (25%) were influenza B (lineage not determined), 507 (19%) were A(H3), 400 specimens (15%) were influenza A (not subtyped), and 348 (13%) were influenza B (Victoria lineage).

Source: World Health Organization