Authorities hope regular checks will detect Sars or flu outbreaks at an early stage Residential-care homes for the elderly will be monitored for Sars, flu and other infectious diseases under government plans to expand disease surveillance. A Department of Health surveillance system involves 64 general outpatient clinics and about 50 private doctors. By including homes for the elderly in the checks, the department hoped to identify outbreaks of common infectious diseases as early as possible, said Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, a deputy secretary for health, welfare and food. 'Protocol for sentinel surveillance on common infectious diseases has been designed, and consultation with SWD [the Social Welfare Department] is under way to implement the programme soon,' Mr Nip told a meeting of the Legco panel on welfare services yesterday. Older people living in cramped residential centres are particularly susceptible to infectious diseases. The elderly community accounted for most of the 299 deaths caused by the Sars outbreak. There are 742 such residential-care homes, but for surveillance purposes, only a few of them would be included in the programme, legislators were told. Meanwhile, legislators attending the panel raised concerns that many of the elderly living in private flats had not been immunised for influenza. Albert Chan Wai-yip, who represents New Territories West, said he was told there were only 100 flu shots available in his district. An assistant director of social welfare, Kathy Ng, denied this, saying that 147 centres for the elderly were offering flu shots at $50 each. But Chan Wai-man, an assistant director of health, said the supply of flu vaccines would be enough. She added that there had been sporadic flu cases in homes for the elderly, but there were no signs that incidences were increasing. About 90 per cent of elderly people living in the residential centres have been vaccinated, she said. 'For the elderly in the community I think a lot have been immunised but we cannot check that because many go to private doctors.' Dr Chan added that the department was monitoring reports of severe influenza in North America caused by the new Fujian strain, which she said the vaccine would also offer protection against.