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Flu Vaccinations Begin in Beijing

Hundreds of Beijingers turned out for flu shots Monday on the first day of an expanded anti-influenza campaign.

Starting from this week, 427 clinics across the capital's 18 districts and counties, will provide flu vaccines to the public.

In the past, just 300 clinics provided the service from October, according to the municipal disease control and prevention center.

The campaign has expanded and started earlier than normal because of fears that the flu could be misdiagnosed as SARS, said He Xiong, deputy director of the center.

The flu season runs from October to March. This is the period when SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is most likely to recur.

As flu patients have similar symptoms to SARS sufferers in the early stages of their illness, they could be misdiagnosed, he said.

"To prevent flu patients from being mistaken for SARS sufferers and to reduce cross-infection, we must help people avoid the flu," said He.

This year, the center has prepared 1.5 million flu vaccines, far more than the usual 400,000 vaccines.

He added that 36 flu monitoring stations have started work earlier than usual.

But SARS researchers stress the flu vaccines is only a temporary measure in reducing misdiagnoses.

The most urgent tasks are to increase the rate of correct SARS diagnoses in early stage and develop a vaccine for the new disease, said Huang Wenlin, a vaccine researcher from south China's Guangdong Province, in an interview with People's Daily.

Huang predicted that vaccines could be produced as early as the end of this year. However, genetic vaccines, which are based on molecular biology, would still take two or three years to develop.

He appealed to scientists and research organizations to unite in their search for SARS vaccines.

In another development, the trial of a new SARS health reporting system began yesterday. It enables hospitals around the country to alert the national disease control and prevention center and the health ministry of suspected SARS cases.

Shanghai Evening News quoted Jin Shuigao from the national center as saying the new reporting system should be more effective than the existing one.

Local hospitals can download the new system from the Internet, and the ministry has trained provincial hospitals in its use, Jin said.

Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) also urged all countries to reactivate their disease monitoring systems, Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po news reported.

WHO's Asia-Pacific branches recommended expanding the range of monitoring systems, supporting a regional laboratory system, and setting up training projects for epidemic control.

(China Daily September 16, 2003)

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