Tue, Feb 15, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Flu season likely to linger for two more weeks: CDC

NO WORRIES Health officials renewed calls for people to get vaccinations while reporting that three people have died from flu-related complications so far this year

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

As Taiwan entered the peak of flu season later than usual this year, the flu epidemic is likely to linger over the next two weeks, officials with the Center for Disease Control said yesterday.

"This year flu infections peaked around Christmas and that rate has continued until now. We expect the flu will persist for another two weeks," said the center's deputy director, Lin Ting (林頂).

Doctors also confirmed that more children have been hospitalized recently due to severe flu complications.

"The flu complications we have seen in children recently include Japanese encephalitis, respiratory infection, septicemia, and myocarditis," said Huang Li-min (黃立民), chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at National Taiwan University Hospital.

Influenza-induced complications can be fatal even for healthy adults, health officials warned. According to the center's statistics, six flu patients have suffered from serious complications so far this year. Three out of the six cases are dead. The center said that two patients in their early 20s died of pneumonia triggered by influenza B, while one patient in his 50s died of lung disease caused by influenza A.

"Every year the flu-incurred bacteria infections lead to fatalities," Lin noted.

Lin also said that there is no reason to panic over the annual flu season.

"So far the situation does not appear worse than last year, in which five of the 19 patients with serious flu complications died," Lin said.

Yet the death toll could climb higher, as the center is still waiting for hospitals to update reports during the Lunar New Year holidays, an eight-day-long vacation when many doctors were on leave.

The center urged young children and seniors to get vaccinated as soon as possible, saying that a shot could fend off the potentially fatal virus.

But some physicians are skeptical about the vaccine's effectiveness. "Normally, 70 percent of vaccinated people develop antibodies against the flu virus. But the rate is lower for protection against the flu subtype, influenza B," Huang said.

Huang also said that the lower-than-expected efficacy of the flu shot might be a sign that strains of the flu are immune to the current vaccine.

"The vaccine offered by the government targets the Shanghai strain of influenza B, whereas most viruses we detect in our samples in the lab are not the Shanghai strain," Huang said.

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