10 deaths in 9 days as Hong Kong enters winter flu season
Based on early figures the situation does not appear to be particularly serious, says Centre for Health Protection
Hong Kong has entered the winter flu season with 10 associated deaths recorded in the first nine days this year, the Centre for Health Protection said on Wednesday.
But health officials said it was still too early to tell whether the flu season this year would be more severe than before.
“It would be hard to gauge the condition of the entire [flu] season from figures in one to two weeks,” said centre controller Dr Wong Ka-hing.
He said based on statistics collected so far, the city’s flu situation does not appear to be particularly serious.
As of Tuesday, the city recorded 24 adult severe flu cases this year, in which 10 died. Seven of those who died were aged older than 65. One child case was also categorised as severe flu.
Those suffering from severe conditions meant they were admitted to intensive care units or died after being diagnosed with flu. But admission to the units or death might have been caused by other acute medical conditions or chronic diseases intensified by flu.
Respiratory specimens testing positive for the flu virus also saw a rise since late last month. The figure increased from 9.76 per cent in the final week last month to over 15 per cent the following week.
Over the same period, the overall rate of admission at public hospitals for those diagnosed with flu increased from 0.26 per 10,000 population to 0.4. Cases of flu outbreaks in institutions, such as elderly care homes and primary schools, also saw a rise.
But Wong said it was not yet known when the flu season would reach its peak.
“As the winter flu season has just started, we won’t know at the moment when the peak will appear,” he said. “In general, a flu season lasts for around 16 weeks.”
Dr Liu Shao-haei, the Hospital Authority’s chief manager in infection, emergency and contingency, said public hospitals have implemented measures to prepare for the flu season.
Areas such as cases surveillance and infection control were ready, Liu said. As all patients with flu symptoms would be able to receive rapid tests this year, he estimated the amount conducted would increase from 30,000 last year to 100,000 this year.
The centre this year would regularise the surveillance of severe flu cases among adults all year round by recording the cases. Wong said surveillance only applied to flu seasons in the past but the change was to improve the system and does not indicate more severe flu conditions.
Wong urged the public, in particular children, the elderly and chronic patients, to receive the flu vaccine as soon as possible to stay protected. He said it usually takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body.
Hospital Authority statistics showed that on Tuesday, 4,842 people sought help from public hospital accident and emergency services, with 818 admitted to medical wards. The overall bed occupancy rate at public medical wards was 108 per cent.