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December 12, 2009

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Swine-flu warning for Chinese New Year

The Ministry of Health warned yesterday that the swine flu outbreak in the country could peak over the next several months, especially when hundreds of millions of people return home for the Chinese Lunar New Year.

"Large numbers of travelers during the Spring Festival period in late January and February may hamper our efforts to control the spread of H1N1 flu," ministry spokesman Deng Haihua told a news conference in Beijing.

More than 100,000 people on Chinese mainland have been infected with swine flu, and the number of swine flu deaths more than tripled in two weeks near the end of November with the onset of winter, the ministry said.

The ministry reported 326 fatalities as of Wednesday.

The figures are much lower than those reported in the United States, where swine flu has sickened about 50 million people and killed about 10,000, according to new estimates released by federal health officials on Thursday.

Critical period

China's peak flu season, which could last until March, will be a critical period for the illness's control and prevention, Deng said.

Swine flu accounted for about 91 percent of all flu cases in recent weeks.

Since September, China has vaccinated more than 30 million people on the mainland.

"Generally speaking, vaccination work has been proceeding smoothly, but recently progress has been quite slow in some areas," Deng said.

An average of 1 million people are vaccinated every day, and the ministry aims to increase that to 1.5 million before the Lunar New Year.

By Monday, about 3,631 people had been suspected of having adverse reactions against the vaccine.

More vaccines

"About one in 1 million vaccinated people reported serious adverse reactions in China," Deng said, adding that the ratio was no larger than in other countries where mass vaccinations were conducted.

More people would be included in priority groups, including expectant mothers, veterinarians and migrant workers, he said.

Liang Wannian, head of the ministry's health emergency office, said there were several reasons for the slower-than-expected progress in vaccinations.

"I don't rule out that some people have worries over the safety of the vaccine," Liang said. "Perhaps our publicity work about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine has not reached everyone it should have.''

Later yesterday, the ministry put out a notice strongly encouraging pregnant women to get the vaccine, although it cautioned that vaccinations should still be voluntary.

According to the ministry, about 13.7 percent of the mainland's swine flu deaths were pregnant women.


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