A 75-year-old woman who developed weakness in her legs has been confirmed as the city's second patient to develop Guillain-Barre syndrome after having a swine flu shot, but the government reiterated that the vaccine was still safe.
The woman, who has chronic illnesses, had the shot on December 29 and was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital on February 5, where she remains in serious condition.
A government-appointed expert group formed to assess bad reactions to the vaccine said that although the woman was confirmed to be suffering from the syndrome - a condition in which the body damages its own nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and even paralysis - there was no proof the shot caused the condition.
Centre for Health Protection controller Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said yesterday the city normally saw between 40 and 60 cases of the syndrome each year that had nothing to do with vaccinations. 'Now that 170,000 people have had the shot, it is still within the baseline with just two GBS cases,' he said. If the number of cases that appeared to be linked to the vaccine exceeded three, the vaccination programme might have to be reviewed, he said.
A 58-year-old cardiologist was the first person to be diagnosed with GBS after having a swine flu shot.
The expert group, which held a meeting yesterday, also discussed the cases of three other patients who suffered from suspected side effects following vaccination. The cases - a 28-year-old woman who gave birth to a stillborn baby, an 80-year-old man who lost his voice and suffered paralysis, and a 34-year-old man who developed double vision - were not related to the vaccine, the group said.
Meanwhile, the swine flu pandemic is declining in many countries, but the World Health Organisation said it was too early to conclude that infections had peaked. The announcement, made after an experts' meeting on Wednesday in Geneva, noted that as winter had not arrived in the Southern Hemisphere and there was new community transmission in West Africa, the world should be on guard.
University of Hong Kong virologist Professor Malik Peiris said that since the city had already been on high alert for months, the WHO announcement would not have any significant impact on infection control.