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DOH says locals nonchalant on bird flu

2005-10-19 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Jenny W. Hsu

The lethal avian flu virus which has rapidly swept across Southeast Asia and now reached Europe, seems to have had little impact on the Taiwanese psyche, as citizens remain relatively nonchalant about the threat and ignorant of the precautions they could take, a Department of Health survey showed yesterday.

In a recent poll of 1,092 people conducted by the health agency, over 53 percent of respondents did not know "how to protect themselves from the virus," while another 45 percent were unaware of the origin of the virus.

Moreover, only 21 percent knew that washing their hands was the most effective way to minimize

A kid plays with chickens at the Taipei City Zoo yesterday while the world is trying to fight the deadly avian flu./RICK YI, TAIWAN NEWS

A kid plays with chickens at the Taipei City Zoo yesterday while the world is trying to fight the deadly avian flu./RICK YI, TAIWAN NEWS

the risk of catching the flu, and just 30 percent understood that they should avoid contact with birds.

CDC Deputy Director-General Lin Ting urged local residents to maintain a high standard of hygiene in their living environment.

"The first line of defense is a healthy body. If a person has a strong immune system, then it will be harder for the virus to attack him," Lin said.

He encouraged everyone to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.

Lin also addressed national contingency plans developed to fight a possible outbreak, and reassured the public that the medical profession in Taiwan was amply prepared for an epidemic.

Taiwan has 3,081 hospital beds set aside for avian flu patients at present, and each county has at least one designated hospital where patients would be directed to if an outbreak began, Lin said.

Moreover, emergency medical centers are being set up in various locations throughout Taiwan, and medical professionals would be transferred to these temporary centers to offer assistance in case of an outbreak.

Lin also emphasized the importance of wearing masks if people come down with a cough or the sniffles.

"We are asking the public to have the basic decency to wear masks when coughing. People who have signs of flu should consult their doctors immediately," Lin stressed.

The CDC has stockpiled 3,750,000 N95 masks, enough to last for 107 days if evidence existed that the disease was being transmitted between humans.

Studies in the United States have further indicated that because the virus would be airborne, wearing gloves could also be an effective way to counter the disease, but Lin didn't agree.

"It wouldn't be convenient," Lin said.

Ironically, the same survey suggested many were accutely aware of the potential threat of avian flu. Over 40 percent of respondents said they were extremely worried about a possible outbreak. Lin commented that "it was good to worry," but urged people in Taiwan not to panic or hoard masks.