Flu outbreak hitting young hardest

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Flu outbreak hitting young hardest


A third-grade student visited a hospital near her home in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, on Monday with a fever of 39.5 degrees Celsius (103.1 degrees Fahrenheit). The girl, surnamed Lee, complained of fever, coughing and a sore throat, and was diagnosed with influenza.

Twenty-five of the 300 children who visited the hospital that same day had the same disease.

“Compared to previous years, the number of influenza patients has risen three to five times recently,” said Park Yang-dong, chief of the hospital.

And a different population appears to be most vulnerable to this strain of the flu.

“This year, unlike previous years, 73 percent of all influenza patients are children and young adults as opposed to senior citizens, and the symptoms are also worse than before,” said Lee Jae-gap, a professor at Hallym University Medical Center.

One high school nurse said, “In March and April, there’s been a nonstop line of students visiting the clinic [at the school] with high fever and coughing.”

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday, among all patients who visited one of 815 medical facilities nationwide from April 4 to 10, an average 20.5 out of every 1,000 patients were suffering from influenza-like illness (ILI).

ILI is a medical diagnosis for influenza or other illnesses that cause similar symptoms.

“We started gathering ILI numbers in 2000 and this year is the first time that ILI numbers [per 1,000 patients] have gone over 20 patients,” said Gwon Jun-uk, a manager at the infectious disease control branch of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The previous high, in 2009, was 17.6 ILI diagnoses per 1,000 patients.

Lee, the professor at Hallym, recommended that, “Before going out, one should take extra sanitary precautions and wash the hands as well as brushing teeth.”

Experts said that cold weather and sharp temperature swings from day to night can make people more susceptible to the influenza virus.

Seoul is currently experiencing the coldest April it has seen in around 20 years, and as temperatures dipped below zero mid-month, the number of influenza patients soared. Seoul’s temperature in early and mid-April this year is two degrees Celsius lower than the average temperature during that period from 1971 to 2000.

By Park Tae-kyun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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