Has the office been looking a little empty this week? Winter, and especially early January, is a time of increased illness thanks to weakened immune systems and dropping temperatures, the perfect conditions for viruses to stay airborne and take hold.

This year, however, is proving particularly bad in several big cities, including Beijing, as influenza spreads and leaves many hospitals full and underprepared. The increase in sufferers is being put down the prevalence of a number of virus strains that had not otherwise been seen in the past few years, leading to a lack of immunity among the already vulnerable population.

The flu epidemic has been growing in recent weeks, with 5,298 flu cases reported in Beijing alone between Dec 18 and 24, an increase of more than 80 percent on the previous week, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The spate of infections has even proven too much for one top-tier hospital in Tianjin, the Tianjin Haihe Hospital, which has had to temporarily shut its pediatrics ward due to sickness among its staff, reports Tianjin’s Metro Express.

In response to the epidemic, the National Health and Family Planning Commission held a press conference on Tuesday outlining the unusual circumstances. Jiao Yahui, deputy head of the commission’s medical administration and management bureau, did however make assurances that there is no cause for panic, as no mutations have been found that would make the virus stronger, more drug-resistant, or easier to transmit.

While flu vaccines are recommended by the World Health Organisation as a way to prevent the three dominant strains of flu, they have limited effect against B/Yamagta, the strain behind China’s outbreaks this winter. Traditional flu prevention tips such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, good hygiene, and keeping distance from others, especially those who are sick, are your best bet at fending off the illness.

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Photos: zhytuku.china.com, pexels.com

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