They may want votes, but some Japanese election candidates have been cutting back on handshakes on the campaign trail as the new flu virus reaches epidemic proportions in Japan.
The country has confirmed three deaths from the H1N1 influenza virus, and the health minister said Wednesday a rise in cases meant the new flu had spread more than expected this summer.
With little more than a week to go until the August 30 election that his opposition Democratic Party looks likely to win, candidate Denny Tamaki is playing it safe.
"Shaking hands during an election campaign is key, so this is pretty troubling," Tamaki told the reporters.
"It would be bad if I get infected myself and then pass it on to older people with weaker immune systems," said Tamaki, whose home island of Okinawa has been hit hard by the flu.
Fellow Democratic Party candidate Katsuhito Yokokume, locked in a tough fight against popular ex-premier Junichiro Koizumi's son, took a break from campaigning a few days ago after showing flu symptoms, media reported.
When he resumed, he made a rather unusual campaign pledge.
"We'll make sure not to give speeches so close that the audience might get hit with spittle," Yomiuri quoted one of his campaigners as saying.
Makiko Fujino, a ruling party candidate in the city of Nagoya, where an 81-year-old woman died from the new flu, brought disinfectant along to her rallies.
"I watched the news and thought some people might be worried, so I quickly brought some along," she told the reporters.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura urged people to wash their hands but said there were no plans to limit public gatherings.
The new H1N1 influenza virus has caused the first pandemic of the 21st century, according to the World Health Organization. When the northern hemisphere's autumn weather sets in, it is expected to worsen. Most cases are mild to moderate, with H1N1 appearing to be about as deadly as seasonal flu.