Korean CDC warns that winter flu is epidemic

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Korean CDC warns that winter flu is epidemic

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide influenza warning yesterday, saying the seasonal flu has reached the epidemic level.

The health authority said that the number of flu patients has reached 4.8 persons per every 1,000 people visiting hospitals and clinics.

An epidemic watch is declared when the ratio surpasses four out of 1,000 people. No deaths have been reported.

Since mid-December, the number of influenza patients has constantly increased from 2.8 persons per 1,000 four weeks ago to 4.8 persons per 1,000 last week.

Health authorities said that based on the trend of the past three years, when influenza becomes epidemic, the number of patients increases rapidly for a period between six and eight weeks and the number of patients at the peak can be as high as five times the epidemic ratio.

“There is a possibility that the number of patients can greatly increase to as high as 20 per 1,000 patients in the next two months,” said a health official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated last week that the U.S. is facing its worst flu season in 10 years and that flu cases have reached the epidemic level.

In Seoul, Kwon Joon-wook, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “There are three types of Influenza A viruses [including Influenza A subtype H1N1] spreading globally, and Korea has the highest number of A (H1N1) types.”

H1N1 is the same strain that swept the nation in a 2009 epidemic that infected nearly three million people.

“This virus strain compared to the past is less virulent,” said Kwon, “and since many people are already vaccinated, there isn’t too much concern.”

The type of virus spreading in the United States and China, the N3N2 strain, has not been discovered here in large numbers, said health authorities.

The center advised vaccinations, especially for the most vulnerable such as infants, the pregnant and the elderly. Some 16 million people have already been vaccinated, and authorities said the vaccination is about 70 percent effective in preventing influenza-related illnesses.

Authorities also advised people to maintain personal hygiene, washing hands frequently and covering their mouths when coughing.

Flu symptoms include headaches, high fever, dry coughing, nasal congestion, aching joints and inflamed throats. The flu season traditionally peaks in December and January.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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