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Flu epidemic begins in 12 prefectures across Japan, experts advise vaccination

A doctor gives a child a flu vaccination in Fukuoka in this Nov. 24, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A flu epidemic has begun in 12 prefectures across Japan, figures released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry show.

The average number of influenza patients reported by some 5,000 medical institutions designated as fixed observation points by Sept. 15 came to 1.17 per institution, approximately 8.7 times the figure in the corresponding period of 2018. The average number of patients per institution surpassed one -- the criteria for an epidemic -- in 12 of Japan's 47 prefectures. The flu outbreak began more than two months earlier than usual.

A total of 490 schools across Japan have suspended either some or all classes because of the outbreak.

"We'd like people to vaccinate themselves to prevent the flu," said an expert.

Eiji Kusumi, a physician at Navitas Clinic Shinjuku in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, says several flu patients are currently visiting the facility a day.

The clinic has received requests from many patients for flu vaccinations since the beginning of October when the institution began such prevention measures. In normal years, flu vaccinations begin to increase sometime around November.

"It's important to prevent the flu through vaccinations at an early stage," Kusumi says.

By the third week of September, the number of flu patients reported in Tokyo had reached 436, 5.5 times the figure in the corresponding period of 2018. The metropolitan government declared on Sept. 26 that a flu epidemic had begun in the capital, 11 weeks earlier than last year and the earliest in history.

The largest number of patients has been reported in Okinawa Prefecture. The number of sufferers began to increase in the southernmost prefecture in late July, and surpassed 30 per fixed observation point in the first week of September, prompting the prefectural government to issue a flu epidemic warning.

Prefectural government officials say that the number of patients reported by medical institutions is almost equal to that seen during a winter flu season. An epidemic has begun in 11 other prefectures including Fukuoka, Saga and Kagoshima prefectures in southwestern Japan and Ishikawa Prefecture along the Sea of Japan coast.

Kusumi cites the ongoing Rugby World Cup as a major cause of the early beginning of the epidemic this season. He points to the possibility that the flu virus has spread through visitors from countries in the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, New Zealand and Samoa where it is now spring, when the flu reaches epidemic proportions

Besides vaccinations, gargling, washing hands and being careful when coughing are effective in preventing the spread of the flu.

Nobuhiko Okabe, director general of the Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health, says, "If you notice you are showing flu symptoms, first wait and see how things develop at home." However, he advises the public to visit medical institutions if they have a high fever for three days or more, continually cough or produce low amounts of urine among other serious symptoms.

Okabe, well acquainted with measures against infectious diseases, also says people need to immediately see a doctor if they exhibit unusual behavior due to the fever.

(Japanese original by Mizuki Osawa, Life and Medical News Department)

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