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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Q&A

Tips to prepare for influenza outbreak


By MARIKO KATO and MINORU MATSUTANI
Staff writers

Concern about the new flu, called a type H1N1, is spreading in Japan as global alert levels have been raised regarding a possible pandemic.

Although no cases of infection has been confirmed in Japan, foreign residents in particular may be keen to know where to go for advice if they think they have the new bug.

Here are some basic questions and answers about the situation:

If infection is suspected, what precautions should be taken?

Those who think they may have influenza of any kind should avoid taking public transport and wear a mask to avoid spreading the infection, according to Masaaki Murakami of the infectious diseases division of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. This is because all types of influenza, including the new one, are easily transmitted through the air, he said.

"When patients cough, sneeze or speak, viruses in their saliva fly 2 or 3 meters," he said. Flu may be transmitted if the infected saliva reaches someone else's mouth or nose, or their hands and they rub their eyes or eat with them, he added.

Those worried about infection should also be careful when removing their masks, according to Murakami.

"You don't want to touch its surface, which has probably absorbed other people's saliva," he said.

Other precautions include washing hands as well as wiping doorknobs and light switches with disinfectant, he added.

Some foreign medical experts say masks won't help prevent the spread of the flu. Are they right?

According to a spokesman from Japan's leading health care product company, Kowa Co., masks do help prevent flu from spreading if their filters are small enough to block infected saliva.

"Saliva particles with the virus are about 3 micrometers in diameter. Kowa makes masks with filters that block 0.1-micrometer substances," he said.

While some mask makers tend to advertise their products as working specifically for one type of prevention, such as blocking pollen, most other masks will work to combat flu as well, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

"It's just a marketing tactic appealing to people with hay fever during a particular season, and (the masks) probably work for colds and flu as well," he said.

He added that a good mask fits the face so it completely blocks infected saliva.

Where can I go for foreign-language advice if I think I have the new flu?

If you think you may have the flu, the government advises going to the new fever consultation centers opening in public health centers across the country, which accept inquiries about related symptoms.

The fever consultation centers will then advise you to go to hospitals designated to handle infectious diseases, of which there are 10 in Tokyo, including Tokyo Metropolitan Bokutoh Hospital in Sumida Ward and Tokyo Metropolitan Ebara Hospital in Ota Ward.

For information about the nearest fever consultation center in Tokyo in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Spanish, call Tokyo Metropolitan Medical Institution Information at (03) 5285-8181 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily. Outside these hours, you can call Tokyo Fever Consultation Center at (03) 5320-4509, although they may not have foreign-language speaking staff.

For advice in Kyoto, call the consultation hotline at (075) 342-0088, where English-speaking staff are available daily between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. except the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. Spanish language consultation is available every Wednesday, Portuguese on Thursdays, Chinese on Fridays, and Korean on Saturdays, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For consultation in Japanese, call (075) 222-3421 between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

How long will airline passengers have to wait in Immigration?

According to a Narita airport spokeswoman, all passengers on flights from the U.S., Canada and South America undergo medical inspections while still on board, which can take two hours or longer.

"When the planes land at Narita, we distribute surveys asking whether passengers have a fever or a cold, and those who reply in the affirmative receive a quick health check on the spot," she said.

She added that those suspected of having the flu are taken from the plane to avoid contact with other passengers.

Similar checks are being carried out on direct flights from the U.S. to Kansai International Airport, a spokesman for the quarantine division said.

Have foreign embassies issued warnings about traveling to Mexico?

According to the Mexican embassy in Tokyo, the Mexican government released a statement Thursday saying it has no plans to close national borders or restrict travel in and out of the country.

Although the U.S. and U.K. embassies in Japan have not themselves issued any particular warnings to Japan-based nationals against traveling to Mexico, the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised American travelers to "avoid nonessential travel to Mexico," while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the U.K. is "advising against all but essential travel to Mexico."



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