National

Flu infection rates surge to record high across Japan

Kyodo

Japan is facing another winter flu crisis with a record-high average of 57.09 patients diagnosed last week with the ailment per medical institution conducting flu tests, the health ministry said Friday.

The figure for the seven days through Sunday compares with last winter’s weekly peak of 54.33 and was the highest since comparable data became available in 1999, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

Around 2.23 million people are estimated to have been diagnosed with influenza during the reporting period, up about 100,000 from the previous week, it said.

The patients include 3,205 who were hospitalized, with 628 in severe condition. Both numbers were higher than the peaks last winter of 2,050 and 379, respectively.

The total number of patients this season is estimated to have reached around 7.64 million. The most common viruses detected were the type-A strain that caused a pandemic in 2009, and the type-A Hong Kong strain, the ministry said.

The data is based on reports by some 5,000 designated medical institutions throughout the country.

In terms of prefectures, Saitama had the largest number of patients per institution with 84.09, followed by Niigata with 77.70 and Chiba with 73.00.

A total of 8,928 day care centers, schools and kindergartens were fully or partly closed during the week, up from 6,343 marked in the previous week.

More than half of the hospitalized flu patients were those in their 70s or older, while some 20 percent of such patients were aged between 0 and 9.

On Monday, Matsumoto Kyoritsu Hospital in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, announced that 19 hospitalized patients and 35 staff members have contracted the flu since Jan. 11, and a male patient and a female patient in their 80s died.

On Thursday, Nagoya Prison in Aichi Prefecture said that about 300 people — 200 prisoners and 100 staff members — have contracted the flu since late December.

As people rush to take preventive measures, Kenei Pharmaceutical Co., a major manufacturer of alcohol disinfectant in Osaka, said their sales for January more than doubled from a year before.

Bic Camera Inc., a major electric appliance store chain, saw its sales of humidifiers increase by 50 percent between Jan. 1 and 27 compared with the same period last year.