Flu epidemic in China no cause for Sars panic, expert says

Flu epidemic in China no cause for Sars panic, expert says
PHOTO: Reuters

BEIJING - Flu outbreaks are up across China compared with previous years, but the epidemic remains at normal levels and is much less severe than the Sars outbreak, an official from Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said.

"It is irrelevant to compare flu outbreaks with Sars, as the two diseases are different in many respects," said deputy director He Xiong of the Beijing CDC, who participated in the central government's efforts to fight Sars in 2003.

"Although Sars is not strongly infectious, it caused panic because it was an entirely new disease unknown to humans then, and there were no effective means of treatment for the disease," he said.

People have known about the flu for many years, and its consequences are not as deadly as Sars, Mr He said. "Rather, it targets those with chronic diseases mostly and can worsen their conditions."

The recent flu epidemic has caused panic, with some linking it to Sars in 2003, which caused more than 300 deaths on the Chinese mainland, according to media reports.

Globally, 5 to 10 per cent of adults and 20 to 30 per cent of children get the flu every year. Most are minor cases, although more than 3 million cases will result in severe conditions, including death, according to data shared by the China CDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

China has entered the peak of flu season, and the number of outbreaks, defined as 10 cases or more, has been significantly higher than the average for the past few years, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

However, surveillance has not found virus mutations that can affect the spread and severity of the disease, and the flu epidemic remains at predicted levels, the authority said.

In Beijing, 5,298 flu cases were reported between Dec 18 and 24, a rise of more than 80 per cent on the previous week, according to the Beijing Health and Family Planning Commission.

The Beijing CDC has called on parents to take precautionary measures to prevent themselves and their children getting the flu, including hand-washing, avoiding crowded places, and eating a balanced diet.

In addition to a healthy lifestyle, vaccination is an effective way of preventing most flu, Mr He said.

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