Flu Pandemic 'Could Strike Up to 40% of Koreans'

      May 02, 2009 08:05

      The government fears 20 to 40 percent of the Korean population could be infected within eight weeks if a new variant of influenza were ever to turn into a pandemic. Amidst reports of more swine flu cases worldwide, the World Health Organization on Thursday raised its pandemic alert level to phase 5, one step below a global epidemic.

      A government action plan for new flu strains obtained by the Chosun Ilbo says an average of 37 percent of the population over 65, 11 percent of those between 19 and 64, and 4 percent of under-18s could become infected by an epidemic. It points out that segregation of infected patients become meaningless in a global pandemic, and it is more important to treat the disease to minimize the spread of the virus and protect the life of citizens.

      Current stockpiles of Tamiflu, a product marketed by pharmaceutical giant Roche and said to be effective in treating flu, and rival GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza, are enough for only 2.5 million people, 5 percent of Korea's population. Advanced countries such as Japan and the U.S. were persuaded to buy enough stock for at least 20 percent of their population, and France has enough for 50 percent.

      The Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs on Thursday said it will buy enough of the two products for another 2.5 million people as a supplementary budget of W83.3 billion has urgently been allocated for swine flu prevention. But a Veterinary Research & Quarantine Station official said it is uncertain whether Korea will succeed since the rest of the world is also in the race to buy up supplies.

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