Extended cold spell sends flu cases soaring

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 February, 2008, 12:00am

The unusually long cold spell has seen flu cases soar and public hospitals record more than 100 per cent occupancy.

'In most medical wards, occupancy is already more than 100 per cent,' the Hospital Authority said, adding that the increase in admissions was caused by the cold spell. This comes just as the city has entered its peak flu season of February-March.

Centre for Health Protection consultant Chuang Shuk-kwan said: 'Our figures show that we are entering the influenza season now.'

She urged people to take precautions against influenza, although there was no sign that the flu this year was any more severe than in the past.

During the week ending February 2, consultation rates for influenza-like illness at private doctors' clinics and general outpatient clinics were 51.3 per 1,000 consultations and 4.4 per 1,000 consultations, respectively.

Dr Chuang advised people at risk to get flu vaccinations to protect themselves. The government's flu vaccination programme, which began on November 5, has already delivered 270,000 doses, with 30,000 left.

The flu vaccine does not 'exactly match' the viruses circulating at present. 'According to World Health Organisation studies, there will be a 40 to 85 per cent cross-protection,' Dr Chuang said.

The flu vaccine's composition is decided by the WHO a year before the peak season. 'That is why sometimes there will be some mismatch,' she said. Chinese University professor of microbiology Paul Chan Kay-sheung said despite the discrepancy, it was still better for people to get a shot.

'Although protection is less efficient, it will confer some protection,' he said.

The cold weather warning was issued on January 24 and the Observatory has predicted the coldest weather spell to hit the city in 40 years will continue into next week.