Schools take precautions against second outbreak of dengue fever in Hong Kong as first day of new term approaches
Parents remain unconcerned by possibility children might catch mosquito-borne virus as expert warns another wave of infections could be on the way
Hong Kong’s schools are adding anti-mosquito measures to their list of tasks ahead of the first day of term on Monday, even though most parents remain unconcerned about the possibility of a second outbreak of dengue fever.
There have been 28 confirmed cases of the disease contracted locally since August 14, the highest number reported in a year since records began in 1994.
Lion Rock Park in Wong Tai Sin has been identified as a hotspot for infection locally, with 18 patients having visited the area around it before being diagnosed.
Ching Hoi-lan, the mother of two children who are studying at schools close to the park, said the youngsters did not appear to be concerned.
“Apart from applying mosquito repellent before they leave for school, we do not plan on doing anything more,” she said. “There is no need to be alarmed about this and create panic among the children.”
Tse Yeuk-fui, mother of two pupils studying in Wong Tai Sin Government Primary School, said the family was temporarily skipping their regular hikes at Lion Rock Hill.
Lion Rock Park has been closed since August 17, for 30 days, as the authorities work to wipe out mosquito breeding sites.
Both parents said they would let their children go to school as usual.
Huang Xiang, chairwoman of the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations in Wong Tai Sin District, said she had not heard of any parents stopping their children from going to school because of dengue fever concerns.
To prepare for the resumption of classes, Baptist Rainbow Primary School and Grace Methodist Church Kindergarten, both within a 500-metre radius of Lion Rock Park, have stepped up anti-mosquito measures.
Both schools bought more anti-mosquito devices, such as mosquito lamps, and will suspend outdoor activities until the situation improves. During this period, pupils can also wear trousers and long-sleeved clothes instead of their summer school uniform, which consists of shorts and skirts.
If a pupil has a mosquito bite, the school would contact the parents and ask them to take the child to hospital, both principals noted.
In the event of a child becoming infected, the school would report it to the Education Bureau immediately, they added.
Fung Yiu-cheung, principal of Baptist Rainbow, which is about 400 metres away from Lion Rock Park, said: “Our parents all understand that if children keep an eye out and do not stay outdoors for long, there is not a big issue.”
Four schools on Cheung Chau, an outlying island popular among tourists and locals that has also been the site of several infections, said they had implemented similar measures to tackle mosquitoes. At Lui Kwan Pok Lutheran Day Nursery, staff have been assigned to check children for mosquito bites every morning.
“There is no need to worry too much, otherwise you will be under huge pressure,” the mother of a primary school pupil on the island said.
Last week, Dr Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, warned that a second wave of dengue fever cases could happen when schools reopened.
He said people with no obvious symptoms could carry the disease to other parts of the city.
Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said on Saturday that the Centre for Health Protection had issued letters to schools reminding them to take anti-mosquito measures.
She said the Home Affairs Department would distribute mosquito repellent to all schools.
Health officials earlier noted they would monitor schools within a 500-metre radius of infection sites before the start of the school year to ensure mosquito control measures had been properly implemented.
What is dengue fever?
People with dengue fever display symptoms including high fever, muscle pain and a rash. Those suffering from the illness for the first time usually have milder symptoms, and later develop lifelong immunity to that serotype. However, subsequent infections with other serotypes are more likely to lead to severe dengue, which can be deadly.
In Hong Kong, dengue fever is transmitted to humans by Aedes albopictus, a type of mosquito commonly found locally.
Dengue fever commonly occurs in tropical and subtropical regions. In Hong Kong, hot summers are accompanied by heavy rainfall, which provides favourable conditions for mosquito breeding.
But most dengue fever cases in the city in previous years were imported – patients were bitten elsewhere and displayed signs of the illness upon returning.