Hong Kong must raise its guard in the fight against dengue fever
With no fewer than 16 local cases in six days, the time has come for the city to shake off its false sense of security as the threat of the disease becoming endemic looms
The confirmation of no fewer than 16 cases of dengue fever in six days has sounded alarm bells in Hong Kong. Warning of a possible exponential growth in infections in coming days, the Centre for Health Protection has responded with the correct sense of urgency. This includes raising the alert among hospitals and clinics, and shutting down a public park believed to be an origin of infection. Another interdepartmental meeting was also held yesterday to assess the public health risks. Commendable as they are, the enhanced measures cannot effectively prevent a community outbreak unless everyone raises their guard and stays united in the battle.
It began as a mystery a week ago when four local infections were found in different districts. But as more new cases emerged, it became clear that the Lion Rock Park in Wong Tai Sin was a source, with at least 13 patients having visited the location during the incubation period. The figure for locally contracted cases has already surpassed the seven recorded between 2015 and last year.
The government’s decision on Friday to close the park for 30 days will affect many people because the site is popular with hikers and those who take morning exercise. The measure may appear as an overreaction to those who think the situation is not as bad as it seems, but this is exactly why resolute measures are required. The virus host, the Aedes albopictus mosquito, usually lives up to one month, and closure of the park and pesticide control are necessary steps to help stem further infections in the community.
The government has so far held three interdepartmental meetings. Last week, officials activated the enhanced surveillance system to promptly identify patients to report for early treatment. Mosquito control measures have also been stepped up. The quick response owes much to our experience in fighting the disease over the years, but whether this can effectively prevent further infections remains to be seen. Concerns have been raised as to whether Cheung Chau is another origin of infection. Officials should step up anti-mosquito measures on the island and closely monitor the situation. The suggestion of more timely updates of the monitoring of mosquito breeding in different districts is also worth considering.
In the fight against community disease, the first line of defence must come from citizens. Maintaining good personal and environmental hygiene is essential, as is taking precautionary protection against mosquito bites when staying outdoors. The fact that dengue fever is usually imported and is not as deadly as other infectious diseases may give people a false sense of security, but the threat of the disease becoming endemic will get bigger if we cannot contain a breakout in the community. It is time to raise our guard.