BANGKOK — If you’re reading this between tissues and sneezes, you’re not alone.
Thailand’s in the grips of a particularly virulent influenza season that has already afflicted nearly 5,000 people and forced some schools to close, an official from the Disease Control Department said Wednesday.
As of Wednesday morning, 4,800 people were reported sick to the department with the Type A flu that is surging worldwide. No fatalities have been reported so far, said disease control spokesman Vichan Pawan. The Public Health Ministry estimates up to 13,000 people will have fallen sick by the end of this month.
Vichan said the annual flu season would continue through March and return later in the year.
Three million doses of flu shots are also available for free, though they will be prioritized for pregnant women, children, elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Otherwise they can be obtained for a fee at most hospitals.
At least six primary schools were closed due to a high number of infected students, he added. They include Satit Chulalongkorn in downtown Bangkok, according to a report on Bangkok Business News.
Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn told Thai PBS on Monday that at least 13,000 people are expected to have contracted the flu by the end of February.
Vichan confirmed the current epidemic is caused by the Type A strain of influenza.
“This is not a new type,” he said.
Vichan added that number of people sickened with flu each year has risen steadily for years, largely due to denser population and increased migration.
He advised members of the public to cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze, wash their hands often and, most important of all, take days off work or school once flu symptoms start to show.