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Influenza activity in Europe during the winter 2005-2006 started late January - early February 2006 and first occurred in the Netherlands, France, Greece and England. Subsequently, countries were affected in a random pattern across Europe and the period of influenza activity lasted till the end of April. In contrast to the winter seasons in the period 2001-2005, no west-east pattern was detected. In 12 out of 23 countries, the consultation rates for influenza-like illness or acute respiratory infection in the winter 2005-2006 were similar or higher than in the winter 2004-2005, despite a dominance of influenza B viruses that normally cause milder disease than influenza A viruses. In the remaining 11 countries the consultation rates were lower to much lower than in the winter 2004-2005. The highest consultation rates were usually observed among children aged 0-14. The circulating influenza virus types and subtypes were distributed heterogeneously across Europe. Although the figures for total virus detections in Europe indicated a predominance of influenza B virus (58% of all virus detections), in many countries influenza B virus was predominant only early in the winter, whilst later there was a marked increase in influenza A virus detections. Among the countries where influenza A viruses were co-dominant with B viruses (9/29) or were predominant (4/29), the dominant influenza A subtype was H3 in seven countries and H1 in four countries. The vast majority of characterised influenza B viruses (90%) were similar to the B/Victoria/2/87 lineage of influenza B viruses that re-emerged in Europe in the winter 2004-2005 but were not included in the vaccine for the influenza season 2005-2006. This might help to explain the dominance of influenza B viruses in many countries in Europe during the winter 2005-2006. The influenza A(H3) and A(H1) viruses were similar to the reference strains included in the 2005-2006 vaccine, A/California/7/2004 (H3N2) and A/New Caledonia/20/99 (H1N1), respectively. In conclusion, the 2005-2006 influenza epidemic in Europe was characterised by moderate clinical activity, a heterogeneous spread pattern across Europe, and a variable virus dominance by country, although an overall dominance of influenza B viruses that did not match the virus strain included in the vaccine was observed.


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