The flu claimed the lives of 18 adults yesterday as Hong Kongers continue to wait for a new vaccine, targeting this specific strain of flu, which officials say will not arrive for nearly two more months. The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) is urging the public to remain vigilant and get the available vaccine, especially the elderly, the most at-risk population.
“Vaccination remains an important means to prevent influenza with a certain degree of cross-protection against different but related strains, it also reduces disease severity, particularly for high-risk persons,” advises CHP Controller Dr. Leung Ting-hung.
Secretary for Food & Health, Dr. Ko Wing-man says a pharmaceutical company has verbally agreed to supply the new H3N2 influenza vaccines to Hong Kong by April, at the earliest. Dr. Ko says experts believe the traditional peak flu season may extend into April or May and that the new vaccines could prevent an excessive summer outbreak. He also cautions that there may not be enough supply of the vaccine to cover everyone seeking a jab.
The CHP reports the latest fatalities, all adults, came between noon Monday and noon Tuesday bringing the total number of deaths to 228 this winter compared to 133 deaths last winter. No additional cases of severe flu or deaths were reported among children under age 18 between Monday and Tuesday.
The CHP advises the public to monitor their hygiene and follow these tips:
- Receive seasonal influenza vaccination for personal protection;
- Wash hands with liquid soap and water properly whenever possibly contaminated;
- When hands are not visibly soiled, clean them with 70 to 80 per cent alcohol-based handrub;
- Wash or clean hands frequently, especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes, or after touching public installations such as handrails or door knobs;
- Cover the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, and wash hands thoroughly afterwards;
- Dispose of soiled tissue paper properly in a lidded rubbish bin;
- Put on a surgical mask when respiratory symptoms develop;
- Maintain good indoor ventilation;
- When influenza is prevalent, avoid going to crowded or poorly ventilated public places; high-risk individuals may consider putting on surgical masks when staying in such places; and
- Maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, take adequate rest, do not smoke and avoid overstress.
According to the CHP, influenza (flu) is an acute illness of the respiratory tract caused by influenza viruses. In Hong Kong, it is usually more common in periods from January to March and from July to August.
The CHP says that for healthy individuals, seasonal influenza is usually self-limiting with recovery in 2 to 7 days. Symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain, fatigue, and headache; some may also have vomiting and diarrhoea. Cough is often severe and prolonged but fever and other symptoms generally resolve in 5 to 7 days. However, influenza can be a serious illness to the weak and frail or elderly people, and may be complicated by bronchitis, chest infection or even death. The incubation period ranges from 1 to 4 days. Infected persons may pass the viruses to other people 1 day before and up to 5 to 7 days after they develop symptoms. The period may be even longer in young children or severely immunocompromised persons.