Fri, Dec 31, 2004 - Page 2 News List

CDC announces measures to fend against avian flu

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Gearing up to fight a potential outbreak of bird flu this winter, the Center for Disease Control yesterday announced measures to prevent its spread, some of which require health workers across the country to notify authorities if a case is suspected.

Despite the absence of the H5N1 strain in Taiwan so far this season, the CDC said its plans were a precautionary measure to help stop a possible epidemic before it starts. The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 70 percent of those who contracted it this year.

"We are building networks with 500 hospitals nationwide. If a bird flu infection is suspected, doctors and hospitals must report to local health authorities immediately and take swab and blood samples within 24 hours," said the center's director, Kuo Hsu-sung (郭旭崧).

According to the center, health professionals in the designated hospitals must report any patient who develops flu symptoms and find out if he or she has recently traveled to countries affected by bird flu in the past three months. Others patients with pneumonia and conjunctivitis are also at a higher risk of contracting bird flu, the center said.

"Once a suspected case is identified, we will analyze the swab and blood samples. If the results confirm an H5 or H7 strain of the flu, we will treat patients with antiviral drugs," said Yan Jer-jea (顏哲傑), director of the center's immunization division.

The center has over 2.27 million antiviral tablets stockpiled, which can treat about 227,000 people.

"The purpose of launching the reporting system is to raise awareness among health workers. We can't afford to underestimate the lethal virus strain," Yan said.

According to Article 63 of the Communicable Disease Prevention Law (傳染病防治法), doctors who fail to report flue cases will be fined anywhere from NT$90,000 to NT$450,000. The penalty for hospitals ranges from NT$300,000 to NT$1.5 million.

Earlier this month, the WHO issued warnings that H5N1 could ignite a pandemic this winter and kill as many as 50 million people globally.

The virus killed 32 people in Thailand and Vietnam this year, and millions of chickens, ducks and other birds have been culled across Asia to stop the virus' spread.

Fears of the spread of the H5N1 strain re-emerged in Japan recently, as health officials there said on Dec. 22 that at least one person had been infected with the strain after an outbreak among chickens in Kyoto.

"We don't know when the epidemic will erupt in Taiwan. But we can prepare ourselves to contain it," Kuo said.

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