Medics warn on the risks from flu

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2011, 12:00am

As Hong Kong moves into the peak time for winter infections, the Centre for Health Protection warns that everyone should be particularly conscious of the dangers of flu.

Centre officials urged the elderly, people with chronic illnesses and young children to be vaccinated as soon as possible and reminded the public of the importance of maintaining good hygiene.

The number of flu outbreaks in homes for the elderly and other institutions could jump from 17 last week to 50 by late next month, centre controller Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said.

'We should not underestimate flu, as it can kill,' Tsang said.

At the peak of an outbreak, there could be a few fatalities every week. When swine flu hit the city in 2009, there were some weeks in which an average of more than 10 people died per week.

The centre expects infection rates to be highest late next month and the most vulnerable period for infections to last until the end of March.

Tsang said that 149 laboratory-confirmed flu cases were recorded in the city last week, nearly double the figure of 77 the week before. 'It was the first time the number of cases [in a week] passed 100 this winter.'

Three-quarters of the 149 cases were swine flu (H1N1), and 13 per cent involved the H3N2 strain.

About 320,000 people have been vaccinated against flu this season, among them 240,000 elderly people and 40,000 young children. Tsang said this was 20 to 30 per cent fewer than in previous years.

He said flu would not greatly affect most of the public.

'It will be more dangerous to high-risk patients,' he said.

'They will be more prone to suffer complications and be admitted to hospital.'

He urged high-risk patients to be vaccinated as soon as possible, as it would take about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.

'It is never too late to get a flu jab,' he said. 'Even if it does not provide full support to high-risk patients, it gives them a 50 per cent to 90 per cent chance of avoiding infection.'

Government-subsidised flu vaccinations have been offered to selected groups, such as elderly people and those with chronic illnesses, since November.

Meanwhile, 12 pupils aged eight and nine and 10 staff members of Diocesan Preparatory School were reported to have displayed flu symptoms recently, but none were admitted to hospital.