Hong Kong flu season is here: 53 influenza-like outbreaks in December says Centre for Health Protection

Hospital Authority also reports a shortage of beds for patients at public hospitals

Joanne Ma |

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The Hospital Authority promised to add 500 temporary beds to public hospitals.

The city’s health authorities have urged the public to be well-prepared for the flu season, as dozens of influenza-like outbreaks were reported in Hong Kong last month. According to the Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP), 53 influenza-like outbreaks took place in various institutions from December 2 to 29. The illnesses affected up to 341 people, a report revealed.

Thirty of the 53 outbreaks happened in kindergartens or childcare centres. A further 11 outbreaks in primary and secondary schools were reported. Residential care homes for the elderly and the disabled, a hospital, and a special school were also affected by the outbreaks.

Patients wait up to eight hours at HK public hospitals during flu surge – and it's unlikely to get better before Lunar New Year

According to the Hospital Authority, there is a shortage of hospital beds. The average occupancy rate of inpatients in all public hospital was at 115 per cent on Sunday. Among them, Tseung Kwan O Hospital had the highest bed occupancy rate of 133 per cent. On the same day, 5,910 people attended the Accident and Emergency departments in all public hospitals in the city. Last month, the Hospital Authority promised to add 500 temporary beds to public hospitals.

The winter flu season in Hong Kong normally lasts from January to March, according to the CHP. Last winter, 20 severe influenza cases involving children aged 18 or under, including two deaths, were reported. A total of 570 adults with flu symptoms were admitted to the intensive care unit, of whom 382 died.

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“We anticipate that the local seasonal influenza activity will continue to rise in the coming weeks and remain at a high level for some time,” Yonnie Lam, the controller at CHP, said in an open letter to all school principals last week. “Particularly children, the elderly and those with underlying illnesses are urged to receive influenza vaccinations as early as possible to prevent seasonal influenza as it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body.”

Schools should check the body temperature of all students every day when they arrive at school, to identify those with fever, Lam added.

Lam said students who are ill should seek medical advice and avoid coming to school until 48 hours after their fever has subsided.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne