There's no outbreak of deadly bug: medic

Official seeks to ease parents' fears over bacteria while announcing a HK$50 subsidy for youngsters to get injections at private clinics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:21am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:21am

A senior health official yesterday sought to ease fears over a deadly pneumococcal bug by saying there was "no outbreak" in Hong Kong.

Dr Leung Ting-hung, of the Centre for Health Protection, urged parents not to rush to clinics to get their children injections against the bacteria.

The government announced yesterday it would offer a HK$50 subsidy for injections at private clinics for children under five.

But a private doctor criticised the amount - available by the end of next month - as too low, forcing parents to pay a further HK$200 for the doctor's fee.

Meanwhile it was revealed that the number of children infected by Streptococcus pneumoniae serotype 3 had doubled this year.

"There is no outbreak of pneumococcal bacteria in Hong Kong," Leung said yesterday.

The infection rate in the city remains relatively low - at 1.89 infected children per 100,000 - compared with countries such as the US, where the rate is much higher.

Leung's reassurance came as it was confirmed 16 children had developed invasive infections caused by the bug this year. Eight had serotype 3, the strain that killed two children this month.

There were four confirmed cases of serotype 3 last year and three cases in 2011.

Since 2011, the government vaccination programme has offered protection against the strain through pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13 (PCV13). But children vaccinated before 2011 received vaccines which did not protect against serotype 3.

Under the new vaccination scheme announced yesterday, children who did not receive a PCV13 injection will receive free or subsidised injections.

From Monday, free injections will first be given to 500 to 1,000 children under the care of public hospitals with low immunity who have been deemed at "high risk" of contracting serotype 3.

Children from families on welfare will also begin receiving free injections at public clinics.

The rest will be offered a HK$50 subsidy for a jab at private clinics until June next year.

Leung said the Centre for Health Protection would buy vaccine and dispatch it to clinics according to doctors' orders. Doctors will have to record how much they charge on a website.

Doctors Union president Henry Yeung Chiu-fat said HK$50 would not cover the cost of the injection and doctors might charge an extra HK$200.

The Hospital Authority said six children were being treated for pneumococcal infection in public hospitals as of last night.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung urged health chiefs to classify the bacteria as a notifiable infectious disease - meaning cases must be reported to the government. But Leung said the government could track cases through tests conducted at its laboratories.