H5N1 virus

No sign of deadly flu attack: experts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am

Child deaths 'don't spell crisis for city'

The deaths of three children with flu-like symptoms did not mean Hong Kong was facing a deadly influenza outbreak, an expert panel investigating the cases revealed yesterday.

The findings came on the first day of a two-week closure of all primary schools, special schools, nurseries and kindergartens in Hong Kong, announced by the government late on Wednesday.

Yuen Kwok-yung, who heads the expert panel, said that while the two children, aged three and seven, who died at Tuen Mun Hospital tested positive for the H1 flu virus, they may have had other health problems which contributed to their deaths.

One had a metabolic defect that increased the severity of the infection, while another suffered from an acute inflammation in the brain.

He also said the panel could not find any flu virus in a 27-month-old boy who died at Prince of Wales Hospital.

'We have not found a virus that is more virulent, and in fact the outbreak situation in Hong Kong is rather moderate when compared with previous years,' he said. 'There is no evidence to suggest that we have a much bigger outbreak. So at this stage in time, we have to be careful, but not panic.'

The government said last night two children, aged seven and eight, had been admitted to Tuen Mun Hospital with flu-related complications but did not say when these admissions had taken place. Their conditions were stable.

Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok apologised to those affected by the late-night decision to close schools, adding the decision was not based on medical findings.

'And if we can lower the possibility of an influenza outbreak a day earlier, it is worthwhile to do so.'

Wang Jiefu, the central government's vice-health minister, said the department was communicating with the Hong Kong Hospital Authority and Health Department to keep informed about the flu outbreak in the city.

But he said the situation was not serious and just normal seasonal influenza. He added that temperature screening at the border was not necessary. 'There is no need to panic,' he said.

The Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control (SCDC) said yesterday the number of flu patients had increased by 20 per cent over last year but this was still lower than the five-year average, and the number of flu cases remained limited.

Health authorities in Shenzhen and Guangzhou also said the flu outbreak was mainly caused by influenza B strains rather than the influenza A strain which had hit Hong Kong. Wang Yu, director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the H1 strain had seldom been found on the mainland in the past few years, but a flu outbreak caused by the strain had occurred in Europe in the past two months.

He said recent flu cases in Guangdong were caused by H3 and B strains and no H1 strain had been isolated. The mainland was paying close attention to the outbreak in Hong Kong, he said. 'It is difficult to judge if there is a mutation from the strain and for the time being, we need more information.'

Jiang Lijuan , a spokeswoman for the Shenzhen CDC, said the city faced an ordinary flu season, with nine significant outbreaks in the past week, most from primary schools.

Ms Jiang said health authorities had paid close attention to the outbreak in Hong Kong through an epidemic information exchange system.

In Guangzhou, the health watchdog has received reports of seven serious outbreaks involving more than 100 pupils this month.