Virus more aggressive, but health official says end to peak is in sight

Updated 2018-01-10 09:01:08 China Daily

A child with the flu is given an intravenous drip at Beijing Children's Hospital, Jan 10, 2018. (CHEN ZEBING/CHINA DAILY)

The peak season for flu, which has been spreading more aggressively than previous years, will trail off as usual at the start of the winter school vacation this month, according to a senior health official.

Hospitals and health clinics nationwide have seen increasing numbers of flu patients since the start of winter, Jiao Yahui, deputy head of medical administration and supervision for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said on Tuesday.

The mainland recorded 326 flu outbreaks-which involve 10 or more cases-in the last week of 2017, with no deaths reported, the latest data from the Chinese National Influenza Center show.

In comparison, 42 flu outbreaks were reported during the last week of 2016, according to figures released earlier by the center.

Feng Zijian, deputy head of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the dominant flu strain this winter is B/Yamagata, which had not been prevalent for many years.

This has caused a lack of immunity against the strain and made many people vulnerable, which is the major reason for the higher than average flu outbreaks this winter, he said.

The flu vaccines used in China, which are recommended by the World Health Organization, can prevent three strains-H1N1, H3N2 and B/Victoria-the dominant strains in the previous years. However, they have limited effect against B/Yamagata, according to China CDC.

"The dominant strains for each year may be different, and it is expected B/Yamagata will not be the dominant strain for flu outbreaks in the next one or two years," Feng said.

China CDC is encouraging the development of vaccines that can prevent all four strains, and it is expected that at least one company on the mainland will be able to produce such vaccines by the fall, he said.

Jiao said research had not found a mutation of the flu virus, which means common medications available on the market are effective.

The commission has asked hospitals to take measures to increase the number of pediatricians on duty to cope with the increasing number of children with flu, she said.

"We have noticed reports that patients in some places cannot get common antiviral drugs for flu from the hospitals, and we will ask hospitals across China that have a shortage of medicines to make emergency purchases of such drugs to ensure adequate supplies," Jiao said.

Spring and winter are the peak seasons for flu in China, but few develop into serious cases, she added.

Feng, from China CDC, said it is difficult to prevent flu because it transmits through the air and by physical contact, but vaccines are the best prevention.

"We recommend groups at higher risk, such as children, the elderly and pregnant women, receive vaccines between August and November to prevent flu in the winter," he said.

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