Mutation in a dominant flu strain might be the reason behind a surge of cases in Hong Kong this summer, a top infectious diseases expert has warned, calling for radical change to be made in the current public health strategy. The findings came as the Hospital Authority yesterday announced that it was spending HK$20 million to secure 48 extra beds in a private institution to increase the capacity of public hospitals in the next two months. Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, who is the chair professor in the University of Hong Kong’s microbiology department, said the dominant strain influenza A H3N2 in the city this summer might have mutated in a way that made vaccines used in the past two years ineffective. This “antigenic variation” in the H3N2 virus was also recently found by Danish researchers. “The importance of this mutant to this epidemic is still in doubt. But this is still one of the possibilities contributing to this outbreak,” Yuen told the Post . Hong Kong health chief confirms 8,300 more places for hospital outpatient clinics to fight flu Yuen, whose observation was also shared by the department’s honorary assistant professor Dr David Christopher Lung, called on the government to incorporate additional precautionary measures in its strategy, including giving out a two-week dosage of antiviral drug Tamiflu to elderly people in nursing homes and public outpatient clinics starting from next week. In the long run, Tamiflu should be given to every resident in elderly nursing homes once one gets infected. He also suggested that people getting flu vaccinations should use a medication named Imiquimod, as taking them together would extend the effectiveness of the vaccine by another 12 months. Official figures showed that close to 41 per cent of respiratory specimens taken by the authority last week tested positive for flu viruses, reaching a new high this year. The two professors also found that the number of H3N2 virus samples tested with mutation had increased from 20 per cent in March to more than 35 per cent in May this year. At the same time, the pair said, the effectiveness of the vaccines administered to the public late last year was diminishing – lasting about only six months. Demand for emergency treatment at Hong Kong hospitals eases despite onset of peak flu season Since May, a total of 205 adults and three children have died from flu. A Department of Health spokesman said offering Tamiflu as a preventive measure to those who are not exposed to health risks would not be a justified move. “But the department will consider the recommendations [from the professors] as part of a review of flu prevention strategies,” he said. The experts’ call came as the Hospital Authority announced its plan to buy bed services from privately run St Teresa’s Hospital in the next two months to accommodate more patients with urgent needs at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei. Under the plan, patients recovering from surgery who are expected to be discharged within seven days at the public hospital will be transferred to St Teresa’s. The patients will pay the same price charged by public hospitals – HK$120 a day. “If the scheme operates well, we will extend it to other public hospitals in Kowloon,” said Dr Cheung Wai-lun, the authority’s director in cluster services. He added that about five private hospitals might offer assistance at a later stage. Of the 121 patients who waited for more than 12 hours to get a bed in public hospitals over the past two weeks, 107 were from Queen Elizabeth Hospital.