Sat, Nov 27, 2004 - Page 4 News List

WHO issues warning on global flu

GLOBAL WARNING The World Health Organization put out an alert for a potential worldwide outbreak of influenza C and stepped up the search for a vaccine

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the face of a warning of an impending flu pandemic by the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) said yesterday the CDC will list the new global influenza as a "statutory communicable disease" in mid-December.

In a statement yesterday, the Center's Deputy Director Shih Wen-yi (施文儀) said they have stockpiled anti-flu drugs and are stepping up the development of flu vaccines.

The WHO issued a grave warning on a new global influenza on Thursday, predicting that more than a quarter of the world's estimated 6.4 people will fall ill and between 2 million to 7 million could die from the outbreak.

According to the Center's estimation, the new trend of influenza could affect at least 4.8 million people in Taiwan.

"In the worst-case scenario, half of the nation's population may be infected," Shih said.

The center estimated the number of deaths could be in the range between 9,000 to 20,000 people if the pandemic has a serious impact in Taiwan.

Different from the influenza A and influenza B which is starting to peak here, the dangerous Asian H5N1 strain of the virus belongs to influenza C, health officials said.

"Although currently we don't have any case of influenza C reported, we take note of the WHO's warning," Shih added.

Since last year, the Center has stockpiled about 2.5 million anti-flu drugs. Only about 2,000 doses were distributed. Although the anti-flu drugs still meet the nation's demand, the drugs can only allay symptoms. Health officials said to prevent the flu killing people, Taiwan needs to purchase at least 460 million doses of vaccines and must develop vaccines against influenza C.

Currently, NT$6 billion is budgeted to sponsor research on vaccine against influenza C. At the earliest, the center can develop the vaccine six months after the outbreak of influenza C.

"If our technology has matured in time, we will be able to have the vaccine ready six months after we isolate the specific strain of virus," Shih said.

The Center also warned travelers to countries hit by bird flu to take special care. If travelers show any symptom of upper respiratory tract infection after traveling to Vietnam, Thailand or China, they are advised to go to the hospital as soon as possible. "If necessary, patients will be quarantined after their swab test confirms the infection," Shih said.

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