Increasing awareness of the difference between bird flu and seasonal flu has paradoxically meant fewer people are having the flu jab this year, a senior government medical officer said yesterday. 'People know more about the vaccine and some may choose not to receive it compared with last year' because they now knew it would not protect them against bird flu, said Jonathan Ng Siu-fung, medical and health officer of the Centre for Health Protection. Dr Ng said a mild flu season was also a reason for the low uptake of the vaccine. 'This year the [flu] situation is not as serious,' he said. He said the centre would extend its flu vaccine programme to the end of next month, giving the centre time to encourage more people to get the jab. A promotional blitz on television to alert people at high risk, including pregnant women, the elderly and health-care workers, would continue. He said this time of year was the peak season for flu. 'There is a normal trend of a slight increase in cases but it is not dramatic,' he said. The government ordered 390,000 flu jabs for its winter vaccination programme, about 90,000 more than the 2005-06 winter programme. The shots cost the government HK$28.4 million, more than double the amount last winter, due to a surge in demand from the United States and Europe. But by the end of last month just 240,000 people had been vaccinated, while 50,000 shots were given to the private sector. Earlier this month, private doctors were reporting they might be left with stocks of flu vaccine. The centre also will start a fresh round of public education on frequent washing of hands and other hygienic practices after it found that people had become lax with their personal hygiene. 'The main focus is to promote hand hygiene because we know it is one of the most important measures that we can practise to prevent the disease spreading,' Dr Ng said. He said the message would be reinforced from the middle of the year, in time for the second flu peak season that usually occurs during summer. A Health Department survey released late last month found that about one-third of more than 3,000 respondents admitted they failed to wash their hands after touching public installations or equipment, while 10 per cent did not wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. 'We know that 70 per cent did wash their hands. It is quite satisfactory, but we hope that we can further reinforce this practice among the general public,' Dr Ng said.