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Flu patients surge amid cold spell

Lee Kyung-joon is concerned about the slowing speed of production at his manufacturing factory in Gyeonggi Province.

A factory manager has already been staying at home for days after he was diagnosed with the influenza A(H1N1) virus, while there are more workers who show flu symptoms.

“If more workers become ill from the virus and have to rest at home, it would greatly affect the factory’s production plan ahead of the Lunar New Year’s rush,” said Lee.

“In order to prevent further infections, we have tightened up on hygiene.”

People with flu symptoms have surged recently amid a cold spell sweeping the nation since Christmas Eve.

As many of them are found to be infected with the new strain of swine-origin influenza, health officials have been put on alert against another round of flu outbreaks.

According to the weekly surveillance report published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of influenza-like-illness patients was 22.26 per 1,000 inpatients last week.

The figure was half the level of 44.96 when the flu pandemic peaked in November last year, but much higher than 2.9, an indicator for high prevalence of a seasonal influenza.

Considering the characteristic of the virus that spreads faster in cold weather, health officials predicted that more infections will occur in the coming weeks.

After six people died from the virus last year, this year’s first death was a 3-year-old baby boy who died on Monday. In North Jeolla Province, 70 people tested for the virus in the past month alone.

Amid flu fears renewed recently, sales of over-the-counter flu drugs have increased 5 percent compared to last year, while some drugstores complain about shortages of the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

The disease control agency, which has stocked 13 million doses of Tamiflu to treat 25 percent of the total population, plans to release an additional 200,000 doses into the market within two weeks.

High risk groups such as senior citizens, infants, pregnant women and people with a chronic disease can receive the drug at community health care centers free of charge, the agency said.

Health officials warned of an over reaction, saying most infected people can recover from the infection if they take ordinary flu medicines and have enough rest.

Following the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the Korean government has tried to control the H1N1 virus along with other seasonal influenza virus from early last year.

“Getting inoculated with a vaccine is the first thing to do in order to prevent infection. Individual hygiene such as washing hands is also highly important to protect yourself and others,” said a Health Ministry official.

“Because the inoculation doesn’t mean complete protection, people who have any flu symptoms such as fever, sore throat and muscular pain need to visit a doctor.”

Eating and exercising regularly and taking enough rest can strengthen the immune system against infection. Quitting smoking is also helpful.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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