Sat, Dec 31, 2011 - Page 2 News List

CDC expands access to public flu vaccine

EXTENDED COVERAGE:Of the 11 people who have died during the flu outbreak, seven were infected with influenza B, none had been vaccinated and most had a chronic illness

Staff Writer, with CNA

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said yesterday it has expanded public access to -government--subsidized anti-viral influenza drugs to combat an unexpected development in the current flu outbreak.

Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said the influenza B virus has been responsible for 70 percent to 80 percent of severe flu cases this winter. However, recent weeks have seen a prevalence of the B-Yamagata virus strain, which is not prevented by flu vaccines prepared for this year, he said.

That is why the number of flu cases continues to increase despite a government vaccination program, Chou added.

In an effort to contain the spread of the flu virus, government--subsidized anti-viral flu medicines such as Tamiflu and Relenza have been made available to family members, classmates or colleagues of patients confirmed to have contracted influenza since Dec. 1, he said.

Eight other categories of patients with flu-like symptoms are also eligible for the drugs: those who have developed serious complications; pregnant women seeking immediate medication; those with potentially dangerous symptoms; obese people and those who suffer from immunodeficiency, diabetes, or cardioplumonary, liver or kidney disease or other serious diseases. Those affected by an infection cluster, individuals suspected or confirmed to have contracted the H5N1 virus and those who have come down with a high fever for a period of 48 hours or longer are also eligible.

The CDC currently has 2.48 million packs of Tamiflu capsules, enough to treat 1.69 million people, and 1.57 million packs of Relenza in stock. The drugs are being supplied to 1,258 contract hospitals and clinics around the country based on demand, Chou said.

However, over the past month only 28,000 packs of the drugs have been prescribed, he added.

Data compiled by the CDC -revealed that 255 severe flu cases have been reported since July.

Of the 11 people who have died, seven were infected with influenza B, including the two latest deaths, reported earlier this week. The other four contracted influenza A (H3N2). None of the victims had been vaccinated and most suffered from underlying chronic illness, according to the reports.

Huang Yu-cheng (黃玉成), a pediatrician at the Linkou branch of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, questioned the idea that influenza B was less likely to cause serious complications than influenza A. After analyzing 2,000 to 3,000 flu patients over the past five to six years, the hospital found that influenza B infection presents a similar risk of developing central nervous encephalopathy to influenza A.

Influenza A and influenza B infections have similar symptoms, which include fever, body aches, coughing and a runny nose. However, influenza B patients, especially children, are more susceptible to myositis, he added.

When children experience fever for more than three days, breathing difficulties, rapid heart beat or loss of consciousness, they should be taken to a hospital for immediate treatment because those are signs of serious complications, Huang said.

While advising flu patients to wear masks, stay at home, rest and avoid visiting public places to help reduce the spread of the virus, the CDC, targeting people attending New Year’s Eve celebrations in front of Taipei City Hall, will hand out 10,000 masks at the No. 2 exit of the Taipei City Hall MRT station from 4pm today.

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