Ice Bucket Challenge risky for health of some people, Hong Kong doctors say

Hong Kong physicians say pouring a bucket of freezing water over someone for charity could be risky if they are ailing, elderly or pregnant

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 4:52am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 1:53pm

Hong Kong doctors have poured cold water on a charity craze that is sweeping the globe, warning that "vulnerable'' people could be risking their health.

The Hong Kong Medical Association says the Ice Bucket Challenge could have serious consequences for participants from vulnerable groups, including the elderly, expectant mothers, people with heart conditions and those suffering from high blood pressure.

Launched in the United States to raise money for motor neurone disease sufferers, the campaign has gone worldwide and has raised funds for a range of charities. Celebrities and ordinary people alike have taken up the challenge to either donate to charity or be doused with a bucket of icy-cold water. Most participants get a dousing and donate.

The doctors' warning came a day after China Daily ran a commentary criticising the fund-raising effort on another ground - as a waste of water amid shortages at home and overseas.

Association president Dr Louis Shih Tai-cho said the warning was necessary due to a lack of awareness of the potential dangers, or of safety measures.

"There are definite health risks. We think people with high-blood pressure or heart disease, the elderly and pregnant women should be careful," Shih said.

He explained that people in those vulnerable categories could go into shock, with their blood pressure dropping sharply, causing them to faint. The ice-cold water is used in the challenge because the freezing sensation it causes is meant to mimic the state of immobility endured by sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a type of motor neurone disease. The condition causes a victim's muscles to weaken, leading to difficulties in moving, speaking, swallowing and even breathing.

The challenge has been endorsed by people from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to soccer ace Cristiano Ronaldo and former US president George W.Bush.

On Friday, China Daily ran an editorial branding it pointless.

The commentary poured scorn on unnamed organisations planning large-scale dousings in Beijing.

"It is purely a waste of water to organise 1,000 people to take the challenge in Beijing, a city extremely short of water, just for the sake of show," the article said.

In the past week, the craze has taken off in Hong Kong, with well-known faces braving the experience, including Canto-pop king Andy Lau Tak-wah, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung, HKTV boss Ricky Wong Wai-kay and Chinese University vice chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying declined to get wet and pledged a donation instead.

Shih pointed to the serious injuries sustained by four firefighters in the United States on Thursday, who were electrocuted by power lines while dousing students with a fire hose.

Shih said he was "anticipating" more people would get hurt in the icy-water craze.

"If you really use very ice-cold water on people with heart disease or high-blood pressure, the sudden coldness can cause a sudden rise in blood pressure and can affect the heart. There are reports that people have had a heart attack immediately afterwards, but it might not be directly related," he noted.

The Hong Kong Neuro-Muscular Disease Association has benefited from the charity phenomenon, raking in HK$530,000 between Monday and Thursday. The figure amounts to about five times the amount the society usually receives annually.