Flu readiness at hospitals uncertain

27 prefectures lack data on preparations for H1N1 cases

Kyodo News

Twenty-seven prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, do not know how many of their medical facilities can treat swine flu patients who develop severe symptoms.

The 27 prefectures had failed to report to the health ministry by the Friday deadline the number of their patients with the new A/H1N1 2009 strain or the medical facilities that can treat flu patients with acute symptoms. As of Monday, deaths attributed to swine flu stood at 11 nationwide.

Only seven prefectures, including Akita, Tokushima and Okinawa, gave full reports, while others provided partial data or refrained from disclosure altogether.

The overall lax gathering of information by many local governments could lead to serious cases not going to the proper medical facilities.

Although the flu’s symptoms are generally mild, young children, pregnant women, people receiving dialysis treatment and others with possible weak immune systems are considered at high risk.

Miyagi Prefecture reported that a 90-year-old man who had chronic respiratory disease died Sunday after breaking out in a high fever and testing positive for influenza A. Doctors are trying to determine whether he had the H1N1 virus.

The health ministry said Monday that Japan has stockpiled enough Tamiflu and Relenza antiflu drugs to treat 50 million people.

While a shortage of vaccine for the new H1N1 strain is anticipated, there is a big enough stockpile of drugs for conventional influenza that have also proved effective on the new flu, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

As of the end of August, the central and prefectural governments had a combined Tamiflu stockpile for 40.95 million people and enough Relenza for 4.92 million, the ministry said.

In addition, enough Tamiflu for 3.71 million people and Relenza for 900,000 were in stock at drug wholesalers and medical institutions as of Aug. 17.

Tamiflu is produced by F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. of Switzerland and Relenza is made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC of Britain.

Tamiflu, more widely available than Relenza, accounts for some 90 percent of the nation’s stockpile.

But because a genetic mutation of the new flu resistant to Tamiflu has been found, the ministry intends to raise the ratio of Relenza in the process of increasing the overall stockpile, officials said.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has stockpiled enough Tamiflu and Relenza each for 2 million people.