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Taiwan now has a Flu Epidemic

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    Posted: December 24 2019 at 2:25pm
Flu epidemic period has begun: CDC

The number of emergency hospital visits for flu-like illness has exceeded the epidemic threshold, marking the start of the flu epidemic period in the nation, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said yesterday.

A total of 100,442 hospital visits for flu-like illness were reported last week — up 7.6 percent from a week earlier — of which 11.8 percent were emergency-room visits, surpassing the epidemic threshold of 11.5 percent, CDC Intelligence Center Deputy Director Guo Hung-wei (郭宏偉) said.

There were also 55 cases of serious flu complications, including five deaths, confirmed last week, the highest weekly number since the flu season began in October, he said, adding that most of the cases were caused by the A(H1N1) virus.

Although the epidemic period started two weeks earlier than in the previous two years, it is not considered an abnormal phenomenon, CDC Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞) said.

The situation is similar to that of Japan, which has entered the epidemic period, but has not reached the peak, Lo said.

The main circulating virus in both nations is H1N1, he added.

“The H1N1 virus causes more harm than other common flu viruses,” Lo said.

While young children and the elderly are more likely to develop serious flu complications, records show that when the H1N1 virus was the main circulating virus, about 30 to 40 percent of serious complications were in adults aged 50 to 64, he said.

Among the 55 serious flu complications confirmed last week, 20 were middle-aged adults, Lo said, adding that the youngest case was a three-month-old boy in northern Taiwan who developed encephalitis one day after the onset of flu symptoms.

Common serious flu complications are pneumonia, encephalitis and myocarditis, CDC physician Lin Yung-ching (林詠青) said, adding that early symptoms often include difficulty breathing, a bluish discoloration of the skin, a high fever, coughing with bloody mucus, low blood pressure or changes in consciousness.

People should seek immediate treatment at large hospitals when signs of serious complications occur, he said.

Separately, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) and Lin Yi-hua (林奕華) said that government inefficiency had caused delays in flu vaccinations for schoolchildren, citing statistics from the Ministry of Education that showed 552 classes had been suspended as of earlier this month due to flu cases.

Lo said that the delay in starting government-funded vaccinations was due to the WHO’s delayed recommendations on the composition of flu vaccines for the northern hemisphere this season, which affected production and importation of vaccines.

However, the CDC has sped up the dispatch process to ensure that healthcare facilities receive vaccines in time, he said.

The vaccination rate at elementary schools has reached 92 percent and the overall vaccination rate at all schools is at 75 percent, Lo said, adding that school vaccinations should be completed by Jan. 10 in time for them to take effect two weeks before the Lunar New Year holiday.

The CDC has forecast that the peak period of the flu season would be at about the Lunar New Year, so people who are eligible for government-funded vaccinations are advised to get vaccinated as soon as possible, he added.
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