Sweden’s new Covid wave could rival last year’s: public health agency

Sweden's public health agency has warned that a new winter wave of Covid infections could end up with a similar number of patients being treated in hospital as there were at the peak of the Omicron wave last winter.

Sweden's new Covid wave could rival last year's: public health agency
Sara Byfors, unit chief at the Public Health Agency of Sweden, holds a press conference on December 10th. Photo: Stefan Jerrevång/TT

In a the higher of the two scenarios published on Tuesday, in which the infection rate increases by 10 percent from current levels, the agency expects over 250 patients would end up being admitted to hospitals across the country each day at the peak of infections in mid-January. 

“If we look at the pressure on hospitals from these two scenarios, what we are seeing is that this is in line with how it looked in January and February last year,” Sara Byfors, chief of division at the agency, told the TT newswire.

Around 13 patients of those new patients would be sufficiently ill each day to require admittance to intensive care, a lower number than was the case in 2021 and early 2022, however.  

“As the number of infected rises, so does the number of people who need intensive care, but not to the same level as earlier in the pandemic,” Byfors said. 

In the graphs below you can see how many people could end up being being treated in hospital and intensive care (IVA) by the peak in mid-January.  

Source: Public Health Agency of Sweden

The health agency said it had seen “a significant rise in infections over the past two weeks”, at the same time as “a significant spread of both the RS and the influensa viruses”.

While neither the public health agency nor the government were currently planning to bring back infection control measures, it is possible that increased testing and other measures could be brought in to control the spread of infection in some regions and municipalities. 

Byfors said that many hospitals faced “a tough situation” over Christmas with a lot of people off on Christmas leave and a lot of personnel off sick. 

Three hospitals in Stockholm have already called a “state of readiness”, or stabsläge, as a result of a rise in the number of patients, and hospitals in Gothenburg and northern Sweden are also feeling the strain. 

On Tuesday, 630 people were being treated for Covid-19 in hospitals in Stockholm, an increase of 108 in a single week and the highest number since February 8th. 

“It’s gone up significantly in the recent weeks, and we also have the RS virus, which is also growing rapidly and is zooming right up. We even have a few influensa patients,” said Johan Bratt, the chief doctor in Region Stockholm.  

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Swedish study finds footballers more likely to get dementia

Top level Swedish football players -- except for goalkeepers -- were significantly more likely to develop dementia than the general public over the last century, according to a large Swedish study published on Friday.

Swedish study finds footballers more likely to get dementia

Experts said the study added to “convincing evidence” linking the world’s most popular sport to a higher risk of degenerative brain disorders, and comes as head injury controversies rumble throughout other codes such as rugby and the NFL.

While traumatic brain injuries like concussions may be less common in football than those sports, the repeated heading of the ball by footballers has previously been associated with dementia.

The new study, published in The Lancet Public Health journal, analysed the medical records of more than 6,000 male footballers in Sweden’s top division from 1924 to 2019.

The researchers compared their rates of a range of degenerative brain disorders to 56,000 similarly aged Swedish men. The footballers were 1.5 times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias than the control group, the study suggested.

An exception was goalkeepers, who rarely need to head the ball and did not show any increased likelihood of degenerative brain disorders.

“This finding lends support to the hypothesis that heading the ball might explain this association,” the study’s lead author Peter Ueda of Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet told AFP.

Ueda said it was the largest research conducted on the subject since a 2019 Scottish study which suggested that footballers were 3.5 times more likely than to get degenerative brain disorders.

‘Protect people’s heads’

The Swedish study also found that footballers lived slightly longer than similarly aged men, which Ueda said could be related to the higher levels of exercise and socioeconomic status that come with being an elite footballer.

The study found no increased risk of motor neuron diseases such as ALS among the footballers, and a even slightly lower risk for Parkinson’s disease.

Ueda cautioned that the observational study was not able to show that playing football directly caused the dementia, and its findings could not be extended to female, amateur or youth football.

Because there is so much time between people playing football and the development of these brain disorders, many of the players covered by the study were active during the mid-20th century.

This means that better equipment, knowledge and training could have since made the game safer for modern professional players, Ueda said.

“But you can also speculate that contemporary players today are exposed to intense football from a very young age, so maybe the risk would even be higher among them,” he added.

Gill Livingston, professor in psychiatry of older people at University College London, said the “high-quality paper” added to “convincing evidence” that footballers whose heads come in contact with the ball were at a higher risk of dementia.

“We need to act to protect people’s heads and brains and keep playing sport,” said Livingston, who was not involved in the research.

Research into head injuries in sport, and post-career side-effects, has recently exploded, notably in rugby union and rugby league.

Last year research indicated former international rugby players are 15 times more likely to develop motor neurone disease. A group of former rugby union players is suing various governing bodies for allegedly failing to protect them from permanent injury.