But which one hits Europe hardest? If you’re thinking HIV, TB or tetanus, you’d be wrong. Ebola? Rabies? Not even close.
The infectious disease that causes the biggest burden on people in Europe is…influenza. Not only is the flu common, it also has a high death rate – particularly in older people or those with other chronic conditions such as immunosuppression, liver disease and neurological disease, as well as diabetes, heart failure or chronic lung diseases.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) studied 31 infectious diseases, comparing their impact in terms of disability-adjust life years (DALYs) – a way of measuring the loss of a healthy year of life.
In a paper published in the Eurosurveillance journal, the researchers report on the disease burden and DALYs from 2009 to 2013. Other high-impact conditions include tuberculosis, HIV and invasive pneumococcal disease.
‘This is the first study comparing the incidence-based burden of 31 infectious diseases by ranking them according to their impact,’ said ECDC expert Alessandro Cassini.
He said the results can help public health agencies and policymakers in making evidence-based decisions about disease prevention measures.
EU countries have committed to vaccinating at least 75% of people in at-risk groups. Only the UK and the Netherlands have consistently reached the target. In some countries, campaigns designed to improve uptake in older people have been successful but there has been less focus on other key target groups such as pregnant women and people with chronic conditions.
While the annual burden of flu is high, it should be heartening that health authorities and European citizens have the tools to significantly reduce the burden of this infectious disease. By vaccinating those at risk of serious illness and death, the human and economic impact of influenza can be controlled.