Egypt's flu-like infections made worse by Covid-19 pandemic, health minister says

An increase in respiratory syncytial virus worries parents of school pupils

Pupils at Notre Dame School in Cairo. Egyptian authorities urge all schools to be aware of RSV dangers. EPA
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Egypt’s health minister has said that a rising number of flu-like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections is overwhelming the country’s schools, but has reassured the public the illness does not pose a threat to healthy adults and children.

With the coronavirus pandemic at a low ebb in Egypt, other respiratory viruses are surging, he said.

Minister of Health and Population Khaled Abdel Ghaffar was joined by of medical professionals, many of them paediatricians, at a press conference in a Cairo hospital on Monday to address growing public fears about RSV.

Mr Abdel Ghaffar urged parents not to panic as the virus is not new and there are cases recorded every flu season.

“This virus first emerged in 1956, so there are protocols in place, both in Egypt and internationally, to treat it. We urge people not to panic,” the minister said at Monday’s news conference.

Last week, Egypt’s education ministry said it launched preventive measures at schools which included a mask mandate and isolation of students who show flu-like symptoms.

Mr Abdel Ghaffar said on Monday that although cases of RSV are recorded each year, particularly during the autumn and winter months, there is a sharp increase this year, which he said was as an after-effect of the coronavirus pandemic which, he said, made people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.

A survey by the health ministry this month on a test group of pupils who displayed flu-like symptoms found that 73 per cent of them had RSV, with the remainder suffering from other respiratory illnesses including the coronavirus.

The minister said there is no need to worry as the virus is only serious when it ails children under two years of age and people above the age of 65.

However, patients of any age should seek medical attention if they suffer from chronic conditions or have compromised immunity, he added.

“There are no medications to cure the virus as of yet and no vaccine either,” Mr Abdel Ghaffar said. “No one has funded research to find a cure for the virus since it was discovered because it is very mild.”

Parents of pupils at state schools nationwide had taken to social media en masse over the past couple of weeks to call for more action on the government’s part to address the illness.

One parent, who runs a Facebook group for lower income mothers, told The National that what perturbed her most was the duration of her child’s bout with RSV.

She said he would recover for a day or two and then succumb to a high fever and coughing fits again.

Mr Abdel Ghaffar advised parents on Monday to keep their children home from school if they display flu symptoms.

The education ministry said last week that it would reschedule examinations for students who missed them because of illness.

On Tuesday, the Hamza bin Abdul Moteleb girls’ school in the Greater Cairo district of Giza issued a notice to its students that they should stay at home if they are sick and will only be allowed to return when they show a doctor’s note that they are not contagious.

A parent of one of the students told The National that out of the 360 students in her daughter’s year, 50 had attended classes in the past week.

A preparatory school in Giza has, since last week, introduced a social distancing measure by having Years 1 to 3 attend classes for three days of the week and Years 3 to 6 come in on a separate three days.

Updated: November 22, 2022, 1:54 PM
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