Take your colds to doctors, not emergency wards: health chief

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 12:00am

City residents suffering from common colds should visit private clinics instead of crowding hospital emergency wards, which were already overrun with flu patients, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said yesterday.

The announcement came amid a 20 to 30 per cent increase in the number of patients visiting emergency wards due to a recent rise in the number of influenza cases.

Hospital Authority figures showed the average number of visitors to emergency wards last week was 6,336 per day, representing an increase of nearly 20 per cent over February 14 to 20.

Consultations for influenza-like illnesses at general outpatient clinics soared from 5.5 to 9.8 per 1,000 cases from the first to the second week of March, while those at private practitioners rose from 57.2 to 78.1 per 1,000 cases.

The figures were compiled by the Department of Health's Sentinel Surveillance System, which surveyed 64 general outpatient clinics and 50 private doctors.

'Here I want to say a few words to the citizens: for common colds, there is no need for hospitalisation; you only need to see your family doctor or approach a clinic in your neighbourhood,' Dr Chow said.

'You'd better also put on a mask to avoid infecting others. For children in particular, if they suffer any fever, they'd better take leave and not go to school because they could easily pass the disease on.'

The Department of Health's senior medical and health officer, Lam Wing-kwun, reminded the public yesterday that antibiotics were also not needed to treat flu, as patients normally recovered naturally within a week from common strains such as H3N2, H1N1 or the California-type flu virus.

Dr Lam urged flu patients with chronic illnesses to seek advice from their regular doctor.

Fung Hong, the Hospital Authority's chief executive for New Territories East, admitted the current flu outbreak was more serious than that of last year because of frequent cold spells.

Dr Fung said pneumonia and respiratory problems accounted for about one-third of admissions to the emergency unit of the Department of Internal Medicine.

Since January, 160 hospital beds had been added in the New territories East, but there was still a shortage due to the effects of recent changes in the weather.

Dr Chow said that as the peak season for flu was expected to pass soon, vaccination against the illness at this stage would be unnecessary.