More than 100 people in a typhoon-hit village in Taiwan have fallen ill with an infectious disease, health authorities said Wednesday, ruling out concerns they were sick with swine flu.
It came after the military confirmed that four soldiers involved in typhoon relief work had swine flu, two weeks after Typhoon Morakot lashed the south of the island leaving 461 people dead and nearly 200 missing.
Test results confirmed that about 105 residents of Wannei village, in Pingtung county, had contracted leptospirosis, a common disease after flooding, said county health chief Kang Chi-chieh.
"Leptospirosis has flu-like symptoms so that's why some villagers mistake it for swine flu," Kang said, addressing concerns among people in the affected areas that swine flu had been spreading there.
The leptospirosis outbreak was now under control, Kang added, and none of the more than 100 sick with the disease were in serious danger, although about half of them had been hospitalised as a precaution.
But village chief Lin Wang-hung disputed the health authorities' figures, saying around 400 people in the village of 2,000 had developed high fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, common symptoms of leptospirosis.
Media in Taiwan meanwhile said that at least three children have also come down with high fevers in a shelter for 300 people from Hsiaolin, a village destroyed by the typhoon in Kaohsiung county.
"I am very concerned for my child... there are too many people coming in and out of the shelter every day," a woman told FTV cable news channel.
President Ma Ying-jeou has called Morakot the worst-ever typhoon to strike Taiwan, saying the scale of the damage was more severe than a 1959 typhoon that killed 667 people and left around 1,000 missing.
Fears of spreading disease in typhoon-battered areas came as the island's former health minister warned that swine flu could infect as much as a third of Taiwan's population and contribute to nearly 7,000 deaths.
So far, there have been five swine flu-related deaths in Taiwan, according to the Centre for Disease Control.
But Chen, who now works for Taiwan's top research institute Academia Sinica, said swine flu could infect 6.9 million people in the coming months, of which 0.1 percent could die.
Chen said his estimate was based on government figures of 12,000 new cases last week, bringing total infections to 38,000, with the number sick with the A(H1N1) virus likely to double each week.