Thu, Sep 03, 2009 - Page 2 News List

New infections include very young and old

NO QUICK FIX While vaccinations have been shown to shorten the duration of A(H1N1) infections, a Department of Health official warned that Tamiflu was not a ‘magic cure’

By Meggie Lu and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The A(H1N1) influenza virus continued to spread yesterday, with eight new cases requiring hospitalization, including an eight-month-old boy and a 73-year-old man, the youngest and oldest swine flu inpatients to date.

“There is no way to completely block the disease from spreading. What we aim to do is to reduce the extent of the spread and prevent a full-blown epidemic,” Department of Health Deputy Minister Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said at a press conference.

As of yesterday, the A(H1N1) virus had caused the hospitalization of 95 people and taken five lives.

Around 17 percent of all emergency room patients seeking medical attention complain of flu-like symptoms, compared with 12 percent a week ago, Centers for Disease Control statistics show.

“We expected the illness to reach babies younger than 12 months old,” said Lee Ping-ing (李秉穎), an associate professor of pediatrics at National Taiwan University Hospital, adding that because babies that young don’t travel outside their homes as often as adults, it was likely the virus was carried into the child’s home by an adult.

While babies six months or younger are protected by antibodies inherited from their mothers, “it has been observed that some people under 50 do not have antibodies against A(H1N1), meaning that if a baby’s mother does not have the antibody, the baby would not have the antibody either,” Lee said.

It is important that mothers take stringent hygienic management measures to prevent their children from falling ill, Lee said.

Lee said the key to avoiding the virus was to clean one’s hands, eyes, nose and mouth.

Symptoms of the flu also differ in very young children, Lee said.

“Whereas adults with severe flu have symptoms such as fever, difficulty breathing, chest pain or unconsciousness, attention should be paid to babies who do not play, eat or sleep as normal,” Lee said.

While vaccinations have been shown to shorten the duration of the illness, it is difficult to say whether it will help prevent patients from developing more severe symptoms, he said.

“We should not mislead people into believing that Tamiflu is a magic cure for swine flu,” Chang said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is scheduled to hold a meeting tomorrow with university deans of student affairs to discuss how colleges and universities can help prevent infections when the new year begins later this month.

Ho Cho-fei (何卓飛), director-general of the ministry’s Department of Higher Education, said it would be very difficult to apply the ministry’s “325” class suspension policy to universities because students were free to choose their own classes and university campuses were open to non-students. The “325” system requires that if two students in the same class are infected within two days, the class should be closed for five days.

Ho said the ministry would announce a standard for class suspension for colleges and universities after the meeting.

National Taiwan University secretary-general Sebastian Liao (廖咸浩) said that the school would oblige students who are diagnosed with the flu to stay home.

“If a teacher has close contact with more than two confirmed cases, he or she will also need to stay home,” Liao said.

If dormitory residents were confirmed to have contracted flu, the students would be required to stay in the dormitory while school administrators bring food to them, Liao said, adding that school medical personnel would check on them twice a day.

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