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Flu threat expected to heighten as holiday nears

TAIPEI -- With flu fatalities continuing to climb, Taiwan's disease control authorities urged people yesterday to take precautions against the current flu outbreak that is expected to reach its peak during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Three more people in Taiwan died from flu complications yesterday, raising the total number of flu-related deaths in the country since last July to 31.

One of the three most recent victims was a 34-year-old Kaohsiung resident who had a body mass index of 49 (the normal range is 18-24), according to Chou Jih-haw, deputy director-general of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The man, who died within three weeks after first coming down with flu symptoms, had not been vaccinated against influenza, and it was unclear whether he had been prescribed and treated with Tamiflu, the official said.

Excessively overweight people are considered to be among those most vulnerable to the flu, Chou said.

The other two who succumbed to flu complications yesterday were a 77-year-old Pingtung County resident, who had been vaccinated against the flu, and an 82-year-old New Taipei resident who had not been vaccinated.

Both had suffered from chronic diseases, including colon cancer, diabetes and breast cancer.

A total of 663 confirmed severe flu cases, where people develop complications from influenza, have been reported since July 1, 2011 when the current flu season officially began. Thirty-one of them have died, according to the CDC.

With a large number of people returning to their family homes or traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday that begins Saturday, Chou urged those in high-risk groups such as children, the elderly and chronic disease patients to take special precautions.

He advised that people wear masks in buses or trains, wash their hands more often, and stay at home if they come down with flu symptoms.

Meanwhile, he said, a total of 2,725 clinics and hospitals around the country have begun providing Tamiflu to help people battle flu complications.

During the Lunar New Year break, people are advised to dial the “1922” toll-free hotline to find out the nearest hospital where they can get Tamiflu to treat their conditions, he said.

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