Prefecture-wide school closures eyed to curb flu outbreaks

Kyodo News

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering closing all schools in a prefecture at an early stage to contain any outbreak of a new influenza epidemic, which could claim an estimated 640,000 lives nationwide, according to sources familiar with the matter.
All schools would, in principle, be losed throughout a prefecture in the event of a case of human-to-human infection being reported in the prefecture, the sources said Tuesday.
Facilities with numerous children, such as schools, kindergartens and nurseries are regarded as the major cause of the spread of infectious diseases, including existing types of flu each winter.
The health ministry is discussing the matter with the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, according to the sources.
The government is expected to adopt the plan in a state guideline, they said.
The health ministry will hold an ad hoc meeting of experts on the issue Thursdays.
Limiting human-to-human contact is thought to be an effective way of containing any outbreak of a pandemic, as it may be difficult to secure large quantities of vaccines and medicines. The efficacy of some of the drugs might also be unproved.
With the plan under consideration, the government would excute a large-scale school closure only if a domestic case of human-to-human infection is reported, but not in the case of a person infected overseas developing the symptoms in Japan the sources said.
The government estimates that 25 percent of the population could develop symptoms in the event of an outbreak of a new human flu pandemic because most people would have no immunity.
(2008, Nov. 20) Daily Yomiuri

In related news …

Tamiflu shelf life extended to 7 years
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. announced Wednesday that it had received approval from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to extend the expiration period of Tamiflu, an anti-influenza drug, to seven years from the current five.

The Chuo Ward, Tokyo-based company, imports and markets the product.

The central government and municipal governments nationwide are stockpiling the drug as a measure against an influenza epidemic.

The extension will be applied to new shipments. However, the ministry has notified local governments that the new extension also is applicable to existing stockpiles.

The move is expected to save several billion yen each year.

Recently, several issues have surfaced regarding costs related to the disposal and replacement of Tamiflu stockpiles set to expire from April 2010.

(Nov. 14, 2008)

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