Taipei, March 2 (CNA) Taiwan has begun to provide free vaccinations against avian influenza H5N1 to people at high risk of contracting the deadly virus, such as laboratory staff, a senior health official said Saturday.
By the end of February, 12 cases of H5N1 infections on humans have been reported from Cambodia, China and Egypt, said Chou Jih-haw, deputy director-general of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) under the Cabinet-level Department of Health.
Taiwan had also detected the highly-pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus on smuggled pet birds last year, Chou pointed out, noting that the virus, which was originally only spread among fowls, has mutated to be able to infect humans in recent years.
Since 2003, a total of 620 people around the world have been confirmed to have contracted the virus, 367 of whom eventually died of the infection, the official said, citing World Health Organization statistics.
Due to the deadly nature of the virus, from now to Aug. 31 this year, the CDC will provide free shots of anti-H5N1 vaccine to people aged above 18. These include staff at laboratories that handle the flu virus, as well as those who work in quarantine units, in the coast guard administration, in airports and at customs points, Chou said.
Pregnant women, however, are advised to not get the shot, Chou said.
The vaccination is available at designated health centers and hospitals in cities and counties around Taiwan, Chou added.
(By Lung Rei-yun and Elizabeth Hsu)