Flu epidemic starts in Japan’s 6 prefectures

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Six of Japan’s 47 prefectures have entered the influenza season, the health ministry said Friday.

The six prefectures, including Iwate, Tokyo and Kumamoto, saw their number of flu patients per hospital rose above the threshold of one in the week through Dec. 18.

A reading above one signals the beginning of an epidemic. A survey by the ministry covers some 5,000 regularly monitored hospitals across the country.

The nationwide number of flu patients doubled from the preceding week to 2,592. The per-hospital number came to 0.53.

By prefecture, the per-hospital number was highest in Iwate, at 2.84, followed by Toyama, at 1.33, Aomori, at 1.25, Kumamoto, at 1.14, Tokyo, at 1.12, and Kanagawa, at 1.05. The figure was at 0.91 in Fukuoka, 0.82 in Osaka and 0.80 in Okinawa.

Of 53 flu patients hospitalized since September, children aged under 10 accounted for over 40%. Young children can develop encephalopathy after getting the flu.

Japan did not experience a flu season in the past two years and the number of people with immunity is believed to have fallen drastically.

The health ministry is preparing for a simultaneous outbreak of flu and COVID-19, including by enhancing medical care systems across the country to accept up to 900,000 patients a day.

The number of flu patients is said to reach its peak six to eight weeks after the start of an epidemic, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference, calling on people to take basic infection prevention measures, such as wearing face masks.