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Health ministry: 20% of population may be infected with new flu
Saturday 29th August, 06:54 AM JST
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Friday that it expects about 25 million people, or some 20% of the population in Japan, to become infected with the new H1N1 strain of influenza A by the end of this year. According to ministry estimates, some 380,000 people, or 1.5% of the anticipated cases, will be hospitalized and 40,000 people, or 0.15%, will develop serious symptoms like brain dysfunction or need to be aided by respirators.
The ministry anticipates that the peak of the epidemic will come around late September to early October in Japan, with some 760,000 people developing the new flu daily.
Ministry officials stressed, however, that they compiled the projections to prompt local authorities and medical institutions to better prepare for the epidemic and that the number of infections may be smaller than estimated if their containment efforts pay off.
Also on Friday, the ministry instructed municipal governments to expedite preparations to deal with the epidemic.
According to the ministry’s scenario, some regions, including urban areas where the population is concentrated and rural areas with many elderly people, may see more than 30% of their populations infected.
In those areas, the rate of hospitalization could hit 2.5% and the percentage of serious cases of infections may reach 0.5%.
‘‘The figures do not take into consideration the effects of vaccinations. Actual figures will be affected largely by how contacts between people are made in each community and weather conditions,’’ a ministry official said. ‘‘But the situation may turn worse if the virulence of the virus alters.’’
The ministry expects the rate of new-flu infections to be about twice that of normal seasonal flu. Including infections with no symptoms or very mild symptoms, the total number of infections may be as high as around 63 million people, roughly half the population.
The officials said the ministry did not present an estimated mortality rate this time because so far the number of deaths from the influenza remains small. Five deaths related to the new flu have been reported in Japan.
Every year, about 10 million people in Japan contract seasonal influenza and 10,000 of them succumb to the disease.
Judging from the cases of seasonal flu reported in the past five years, the ministry thinks it would take about 19 weeks before the new-flu epidemic in Japan ends. A full epidemic is believed to have begun in mid-August and the peak is expected to come in the ninth week—late September through early October.
The number of patients likely to be hospitalized is expected to peak in the 10th week at 46,400 people.
Of these, 3,500 are expected to be toddlers aged 5 or younger, 11,800 between ages 6 and 15, 20,000 between 16 and 64, and 11,100 at 65 and older.
Earlier in the day, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said in a preliminary report that about 150,000 people are estimated to have become infected with influenza in the week up to last Sunday, considered mostly the new strain of the flu.
The number of influenza cases reported by about 5,000 designated medical institutions across Japan during the week stood at 11,636, or 2.47 per facility, up from 7,750, or 1.69 per facility, the previous week.
The per-facility figure topped 1 for the first time last week, deemed the beginning of an epidemic, and has increased for seven weeks in a row since early July.
By prefecture, Okinawa overwhelmingly led the list of prefectures hit by influenza, with 46.31 cases per facility in the reporting week, up from 29.60 the preceding week.
The ministry also said that as of late August Japan has stockpiled enough of the antiflu virus agents Tamiful and Relenza for 45 million patients. These drugs are believed to be effective for new-flu treatment.
The amount of vaccine for the new flu Japan can produce is expected to be limited to or less than 13 to 17 million doses within this year, compared with 53 million doses needed in the country. Tokyo is set to import the vaccine to fill the gap.
The government is scheduled to decide on its vaccination policy in September, with vaccine distribution set to begin in late October.
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