News in Digest: Ill at ease in the land of disease

Weil’s and Legionnaires’ numbers are soaring, but who knows: maybe you’ve already got a hole in the heart?

Some 55,232 people died in Denmark in 2018 – the highest numbers since 2007 according to Danmarks Statistik, which attributed the rise to a particularly virulent flu epidemic and an unusually warm summer.

As a result, the nation’s life expectancy (79 for men and 82.9 for women) failed to increase for the first time since 1994.

However, the number of elderly people is increasing, with 159,926 women and 103,820 men surpassing the age of 80 in January 2019 – 4.5 percent of the population.

Despite that shortfall, men are leading the charge. The number of men reaching their 90s has grown by 40.2 percent over the last decade, compared to a 17 percent rise among women.

Better prepared!
This year’s flu season isn’t expected to be as deadly – last year’s was exacerbated by the national health service issuing the wrong vaccine – but it has most certainly arrived.

The number of calls to the 1813 hotline doubled during the first week of February, although the authorities are certain the public are better vaccinated this year.

Two get measles
Many adults aren’t vaccinated for measles, but with virtually zero cases, it has never been a priority given the number of people under the age of 40 protected.

However, two adult Danes recently contracted the disease on a skiing holiday in the Val Thorens area of the French Alps – and the authorities are advising Danes travelling there to get vaccinated.

All Weil’s that ends badly
Weil’s disease, in contrast, is thriving. Over the last two years, there have been 42 cases of Weil’s disease – an infection caused by close contact with infected animals or rodents – compared to a normal average of 10 cases per year.

The symptoms vary from mild flu to more serious infections such as blood poisoning and high fever that can cause liver failure or meningitis and, ultimately, death. Fatalities are, however, rare.

Experts speculate that a combination of climate change, increasing rat populations and flooded sewers might be to blame. Most of the cases have been recorded in Copenhagen.

Legions of cases
Nobody can explain why more people are contracting the dreaded lung infection Legionnaires’ disease. Numbers doubled in 2017 and 2018, and the rate is much higher than the European average.

In 2017, there were 13 cases reported in north Jutland, 65 in southern Denmark, 43 in the capital region, 33 in Zealand and 56 in mid-Jutland.

The bacteria tends to thrive in warm freshwater at temperatures between 20 and 50 degrees, and homeowners are advised to check that their cold water is below 20 degrees and their warm water above 55 degrees.

Wholly worrying
But if a disease doesn’t get you, maybe the cause will be innate. It is estimated that a quarter of the population are born with a congenital birth defect, which we tend to refer to as a hole in the heart.

The condition typically refers to an opening in one of the walls separating the chambers of the heart, but the hole is normally closed in most cases, shortly after birth.

Blood clots are a good indicator that somebody might have a hole in the heart, which can be closed with a simple, painless operation performed under local anesthetic.

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