TAIPEI - Around 400 people have fallen sick with suspected swine flu in a southern village hit by Typhoon Morakot earlier this month, the village chief said Tuesday.
The residents of Wannei, a village of 2,000 in Pingtung county, had developed high fever, vomiting and diarrhoea in the last five days, the village chief, Lin Wang-hung, told AFP.
One hundred were in hospital and 20 in intensive care, he said. "The villagers are feeling panicky as we don't know what is the cause of the disease. We think it might be swine flu but we won't know for sure until test results come out," he said.
Lin added that more people were beginning to feel sick and he had requested villagers wear masks and refrain from going out, in order to help curb the disease's spread.
He suspected that the village's underground water supply could have been contaminated during the typhoon, which triggered widespread flooding in Pingtung.
A local health official, however, said the disease was unlikely to be swine flu. 'We suspect it could be leptospirosis which has flu-like symptoms such as fever and diarrhoea," Chang Hsin-che, director of Pingtung's Wandan Township health bureau, told reporters.
Leptospirosis is a common infectious disease after flooding, according to Taiwan's Centre for Disease Control. The typhoon lashed the island earlier this month, bringing a record three metres (118 inches) of rain, submerging houses and streets and destroying bridges.
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.
So far, the typhoon claimed at least 376 lives while 254 were missing, the National Fire Agency said. The deadliest natural disaster in the island's history was a 7.6-magnitude quake that claimed around 2,400 lives in September 1999.