Mumps Diagnosed in Reykjavík Area

doctor nurse hospital health

A case of mumps was diagnosed in Iceland’s capital area in early February. Now, a second person connected to the first case has also been diagnosed with the illness. Mumps is a viral respiratory infection that has been quite rare in Iceland since 1989, though a few outbreaks have occurred since then.

Those who were exposed to the positive mumps cases have been informed by health authorities, according to a notice from the Directorate of Health. Those who were exposed and are unvaccinated were advised to stay away from others to reduce the risk of infection. The gestation period for mumps is about three weeks, so it is possible that other cases will emerge in Iceland.

Vaccination is the most effective protection against mumps and has been routine in Iceland since 1989. Since 2000, a few outbreaks have occurred, mainly in people born between 1985-1987. Older cohorts are generally considered immune due to frequent outbreaks prior to 1984.

Rates of measles rising in Europe

A case of measles was diagnosed in Iceland recently as well, in an adult traveller who had recently arrived from abroad. Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund stated that measles infections are on the rise in Europe, which increases the likelihood of an outbreak in Iceland.

Record-Breaking Gonorrhoea Rates Spark Concern

Landspítali national hospital

According to the Directorate of Health, 213 individuals have been diagnosed with gonorrhoea in the first eight months of 2023, surpassing last year’s total of 158 cases, which had broken a 30-year record. The surge in cases, particularly among men aged 25-34 and women aged 25-29, has sparked debate over declining condom use and the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains.

Underlying cause remains uncertain

In the first eight months of this year, 213 individuals have been diagnosed with the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea, surpassing the total number of cases recorded last year, according to the Directorate of Health. The 2022 figure broke a three-decade record; after 1990, the incidence of the disease had greatly decreased.

Data from the Directorate of Health reveals that the most significant uptick in cases occurred among men aged 25 to 34 and women aged 25 to 29. While gonorrhoea cases are generally less frequent in women, year-to-year fluctuations are more pronounced.

The underlying cause of this surge remains uncertain, sparking debate over whether declining condom usage should be investigated, particularly in neighbouring countries. Another theory posits that asymptomatic individuals may unknowingly transmit the infection, especially in the absence of condom use.

The Directorate of Health notes that similar trends have been observed across continental Europe and other Nordic countries. Growing alarm surrounds antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhoea, heightening concerns over their potential spread. “Increased antibiotic resistance complicates the treatment of gonorrhoea with antibiotics, thereby hindering efforts to contain and eradicate the disease,” the Directorate warns.

As noted by the Directorate of Health: “In men, the most common symptom is burning or discomfort when urinating (urethritis) with pus-like discharge from the urethra. Asymptomatic infection in men is less common than in women. Symptoms of infection in the urinary and genital organs of women are often altered or increased discharge and pain around the lower abdomen. Other symptoms include abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods, burning sensations or discomfort when urinating. Women are often asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.”

Widespread Iodine Deficiency as Diets Change with Times

Fish Shop Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Icelanders have stopped consuming the large quantities of fish and milk that they used to, leading to widespread iodine deficiencies. RÚV reports that the situation has nutritionists concerned, as iodine deficiencies in pregnant people can lead to developmental delays in children.

Both fish and dairy are integral sources of iodine for people in industrialized countries. Nutritionists stress the importance of iodine intake during pregnancy, as children who do not receive enough iodine during this time tend to score low on developmental scales. In some countries, iodine-fortified salt is used in the production of baked goods as a way of introducing iodine into a wider diet when fish and milk consumption is low. This is an option that is currently under consideration in Iceland, but could create its own problems. If iodine was introduced into baked goods and breads, for instance, young children would be at risk of ingesting too much.

A brief history of the modern Icelandic diet

The typical Icelandic diet was first examined in 1939, when Professor Júlíus Sigurjónsson concluded that where people lived naturally had a significant effect on what they consumed. At the time, Júlíus found that Icelanders who lived close to the sea tended to eat a great deal of fish, while those who lived inland tended to drink large quantities of milk.

No further studies on the Icelandic diet were conducted until just over half a century later, in 1990. By that point, Icelanders’ lifestyle had undergone incredible change and their diets attested to that. Nearly all of the energy Icelanders consumed in the 90s came from protein and fat, with the average Icelander consuming roughly half a kilo [2.2 lbs] of dairy and four slices of bread a day. Water was only the fourth most-consumed beverage in the country, after coffee (an average of four cups a day), milk, and sugary soft drinks. Cholesterol was high and coronary artery disease was common. But at the same time, Icelanders ate the most fish of any nation in Europe, proportionally speaking.

2002 – 2010

A study in 2002 revealed more dramatic dietary shifts. By that point, fish, milk, and potatoes had been replaced by vegetables, cereal, and pasta in the diet of most Icelanders. The nation had also developed a taste for pork and chicken, neither of which had been consumed in great quantity in the past. Young boys no longer drank half a litre soda every day, but a full litre.

By 2010, however, it seemed Icelandic dietary habits were moving in the right direction. People were eating more fruit, vegetables, unprocessed bread and fish oil. Protein drinks became a major source of protein. Sugary soda consumption went down, although consumption of sugar-free soda remained high. Milk consumption went down.

2019 – 2021

The most recent survey, conducted over the years 2019 – 2021, found that fruit consumption is down among Icelanders, while consumption of saturated fat is on the rise. The Directorate of Health advises that people should only get a maximum of 10% of their energy from saturated fat, but according to this study, only 2% of Icelanders abide by that advice. Wholegrain bread has only recently become widely available in the country. Nutritionists say that Icelanders now have the opportunity to increase their consumption of not only whole grains, but also beans, nuts, and seeds. Low fibre intake is a broad cause for concern.

“If we look at what is causing most premature deaths around the world, a lack of fibre is one of the things that makes the biggest difference,” remarked Jóhanna Eyrún Torfadóttir, a nutritionist with the Directorate of Health. “Lack of fibre is causing premature death.” If the pattern of high consumption of saturated fat, low consumption of fibre continues, says Jóhanna Eyrún, there will be an increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: “[O]ur biggest, long-term illnesses that are causing the most deaths.”

Icelandic diets are more diverse than ever

Today, Icelandic diets are far more diverse than they were in the past. More Icelanders are vegans and vegetarians, and more people are on low-carb and other special diets. This has made it difficult for the Directorate of Health to issue broad nutritional advisories like it once did.

In general, however, the Directorate has simple advice: Each a varied diet of moderate portions. People are advised to eat lots of vegetables and fruits, more whole than processed grains, fish two to three times a week, and meat in moderation. Low-fat dairy products and soft fats are preferable over saturated fats. Salt and sugar should be consumed in moderation and vitamin D is important.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Resigns

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Chief Epidemiologist of Iceland Þórólfur Guðnason has sent in his resignation. The Directorate of Health announced the decision on its website this morning. Þórólfur is leaving the job both for personal and professional reasons.

According to the Directorate of Health, the main reason for Þórólfur’s resignation is that the current wave of COVID-19 infection has mostly subsided and a new chapter is beginning in the Chief Epidemiologist’s role. “This new chapter includes, among other things, a review of the response to the COVID pandemic with the aim of improving response to future pandemics,” the notice from the Directorate states. The Chief Epidemiologist will also be shifting focus back to the routine projects that were largely put on hold due to the pandemic.

Pandemic far from over

Led by Þórólfur, Iceland’s response to COVID-19 received global attention early in the pandemic. With a focus on testing, tracing, and isolating cases, the country managed to contain the first wave with relatively few infections and deaths – and without ever instituting a total lockdown or closing schools.

“While Iceland is currently in a good place in the COVID pandemic, it is far from over globally and while such is the case, it will be necessary to closely monitor the emergence of new variants of the virus and how well and for how long the immunity that individuals have achieved will last,” the notice on Þórólfur’s resignation states.

Another reason for Þórólfur’s resignation is that he turns 70 next year: the age at which the Chief Epidemiologist is required by law to leave the position. His resignation will take effect September 1.

Þórólfur recently reflected on his work throughout the pandemic in an interview with Iceland Review.

 

 

What’s the status of COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland?

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Iceland received the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine on December 28, 2020 and vaccination began the following day. As of April 2022, 79% of Iceland’s total population has been fully vaccinated, or 82% of the eligible population. Iceland began administering booster shots in late 2021 and offering vaccination for 5- to 11-year-olds in January 2022.

 

COVID-19 vaccination is optional and free of charge in Iceland. Vaccines were initially administered according to priority groups defined by health authorities, but the priority groups were abolished in June 2021 once all residents aged 16 and over had been offered vaccination.

All foreign residents in Iceland have access to vaccination regardless of residency status or whether or not they have a local ID number (kennitala). 

Icelandic data shows that vaccinated individuals are less likely to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus and that vaccines are very effective at staving off serious illness and hospitalisation due to COVID-19. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that booster shots could help Iceland reach herd immunity. Local data shows that a third dose may increase protection against COVID-19 infection, transmission, and serious illness by 90%, as compared to just two doses.

Vaccines Through European Union 

Iceland and other EFTA countries are guaranteed the same access to vaccines as member states of the European Union. The European Commission has signed contracts with six vaccine manufacturers, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna. The Commission negotiates the number of doses it receives from each manufacturer and they are divided among countries proportionally. Each individual country also makes contracts with vaccine manufacturers and EFTA member states such as Iceland do so through Sweden.

Below is the latest information on the status of all COVID-19 vaccines expected in Iceland.

This article will be regularly updated.

 

Our Latest news articles on COVID-19

What’s the status of COVID-19 in Iceland?

Þórólfur Guðnason

The Icelandic government has lifted all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 as of February 25, 2022. Despite high infection rates, local data shows that rates of serious illness and hospitalisation have remained low in the current wave.

Over 78% of Iceland’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or 91% of those 12 years of age and over. A campaign to administer booster shots is well on its way, with more than 54% of the nation already having had their third shot. Vaccination of children aged 5-11 began in January 2022.

Local data shows that vaccinated individuals are less likely to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus and that vaccines are very effective at staving off serious illness and hospitalisation due to COVID-19. Read more about COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland here.

Read more about Iceland’s border restrictions here.

The following are the latest statistics regarding COVID-19 in Iceland.

Domestic restricions

Currently, there are no infection prevention measures due to COVID-19 in place. There are no limits on gatherings, bar and restaurant opening hours or mask requirements. Neither are people required to quarantine or isolate after coming into contact with COVID-19 infected individuals. People are still encouraged to practice personal infection prevention measures and to keep to themselves if they suspect they’ve been exposed to the disease or they test positive.

Travelling to Iceland

Currently, Iceland’s government has no disease prevention measures in place at the border. When travelling between Iceland and other countries, people still need to consider that airlines, airports and other countries might have different regulations in place.  

Can I Travel to Iceland in 2022 Post COVID-19?

Preventing and reporting infection

Hand washing, avoiding touching of eyes, nose, and mouth, and avoiding handshaking are key factors in reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection. Poor ventilation may also be a risk factor.

Visit the government’s official website for up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Iceland.

This article will be regularly updated.

Our Latest news articles on COVID-19

COVID-Positive No Longer Required to Isolate in Iceland

mask walk outdoor covid

PCR testing for COVID-19 will no longer be available to the general public in Iceland. People with COVID-19 symptoms are instead encouraged to undergo a rapid antigen test. Those who test positive on a rapid test will not be obligated to isolate for five days, though it is recommended. The use of PCR tests for COVID-19 will be limited to those with severe symptoms or underlying illnesses, on the recommendation of doctors.

The changes were announced in a notice from Iceland’s Directorate of Health. According to the notice, the healthcare system’s testing capacity was surpassed some time ago, and the wait for PCR test results has gone from as little as six hours to 2-3 days. In order to reduce strain on testing, the general public will not longer be offered PCR tests when they experience symptoms of COVID-19. Instead, they will have access to rapid antigen tests. Such tests can be booked through the Heilsuvera website for those with an Icelandic kennitala (ID number), as well as through private companies, who offer the tests for free thanks to a government contract.

Isolation still recommended

Those who test positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test will not be required to isolate for five days, but health authorities nevertheless recommend they do so. Those who have little or no symptoms may go to work, but practice infection precaution measures. These include avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people and using a mask when around others outside of the household.

According to the current regulations, those who test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test are still required to isolate for five days. While PCR tests are no longer available to the general public, they will remain available to those who require a PCR certificate for travel abroad, for a fee.

As of the time of writing, Iceland’s cabinet is meeting to discuss recommendations for changes to domestic COVID-19 restrictions. Authorities have previously announced a plan to lift all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 this Friday, February 25. An announcement from ministers is expected shortly.

Doctor’s Orders

Þórólfur Guðnason

Over the past 18 months, Þórólfur Guðnason has gone from quasi-anonymous medicine man to bona fide historical figure. Along with Director of Health Alma Möller and Director of Civil Protection and Emergency Management Víðir Reynisson, Þórólfur forms the so-called “troika” – the face of the government’s response to COVID-19. He’s Iceland’s Anthony Fauci: the imperturbable voice of reason and restraint. It’s a complicated role predicated mainly on credibility, demanding a certain immaculateness when it comes to personal precautionary measures.

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Iceland’s COVID Restrictions Relaxed at Midnight, Lifted in Four Weeks

At a bar in Reykjavík Iceland, drinking beer.

Iceland’s domestic COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed at midnight tonight, and all remaining domestic restrictions are set to be lifted in four weeks, the country’s health authorities have announced. As of midnight, the general gathering limit will be raised from 500 to 2,000, mask use requirements will be lifted, and bars will be permitted to remain open one hour longer. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced the changes following this morning’s cabinet meeting.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist had sent the Health Minister a memorandum outlining three possible scenarios after the current domestic regulations expire: the first was to maintain the current COVID-19 restrictions, the second to relax restrictions in stages, and the third to lift all restrictions. The Health Minister and Prime Minister had previously sent the Chief Epidemiologist a memorandum that outlined the reasoning other Nordic countries had used in lifting all domestic restrictions. Those countries had determined that a majority-vaccinated population faced little risk from COVID-19 as a whole. Three-quarters of Iceland’s population, or 75%, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Svandís stated that if all goes well, all domestic COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in Iceland on November 18, 2021. Iceland maintains COVID-19 travel restrictions at its borders.

There are currently 562 active cases of COVID-19 in Iceland, with seven people hospitalised due to the illness and zero patients in ICU.

Wr-App It Up! New Phone Game Encourages Safe Sex Practices

Iceland regularly has some of the highest rates of STI transmission in Europe and in response, the Directorate of Health has gotten creative with its newest public health campaign. Vísir reports that a new smartphone game, Smokkaleikurinn (‘The Condom Game’), is intended to increase Icelanders’ awareness about the dangers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and improve their safe sex practices.

“Education has gone down and infections have gone up from year to year,” remarked Björn Thorvaldsson, CEO of Gamatic, which produced the game. “So we’re working to counteract this.”

The point of the game is to use condoms (branded with logos for Durex and the Icelandic pharmacy chain Apótekarinn) to catch sperm and viruses. In between sheathings, not-so-fun facts about STIs pop on the screen, as do encouragements for the player to use condoms.

Screenshot, Stöð 2
Screenshot, Stöð 2

Björn says the game even includes a cameo by “a very well-known Icelander” who will “swim onto screen” to talk about the importance of condom use in a fun way. Although Björn did not name the famous guest star, teasers showing a sperm with a high fade haircut and decked out in a sparkly red jacket point to the Icelander in question being none other than gay icon and beloved pop sensation Páll Óskar, who readers may remember from his headlining stints at Reykjavík Pride, among many others. This wouldn’t be the first time Páll has lent his gravitas to a campaign to promote safer sex practices. In 2013, Páll directed and narrated the short film “Fáðu já!” (‘Get a Yes!’) which spoke about the importance of affirmative consent in all sexual encounters. (Watch the video here, with English subtitles.)

Screenshot, Stöð 2

“Simply put, it’s not smart to not use contraception because it’s no joke to get, as an example, chlamydia, which can make women, in some cases, infertile,” concludes Björn. “Or syphilis, if it’s allowed to progress without treatment, can have really serious consequences.”

Smokkaleikurinn will launch next week and will be available in the Apple app store for iPhones and GooglePlay for Android. At time of writing, it is unclear if the game will be available outside of Iceland.