15 die of flu in HK in just one day

Children in masks visiting Hong Kong's Legislative Council last Friday. The flu death toll so far this year has hit 196, up from 133 early last year.
Children in masks visiting Hong Kong's Legislative Council last Friday. The flu death toll so far this year has hit 196, up from 133 early last year.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Fifteen more people have died in Hong Kong from influenza in hospital, the most in a day since the epidemic began at the start of winter, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.

All 15 who died last Saturday were adults, taking the death toll for the year to 196, a spike from the 133 early last year, said a spokesman for the Centre for Health Protection.

A total of 282 serious cases have required intensive care treatment in hospital this year - up from 266 last winter.

"The current influenza activity in Hong Kong is very high and may further increase in the coming weeks," the Hospital Authority said in an internal report released last Friday.

"This winter, the severity as reflected by the weekly number of severe influenza cases recorded was higher than (that of) the winter seasons in the past."

It noted a continuous, sharp rise over seven weeks in influenza A, or H3, cases diagnosed by the centre. One-third of flu cases tested positive for H3, compared with just 1 per cent for influenza B, or H1.

The same trend has been seen across the northern hemisphere, where H3N2, a subtype of the H3 virus, is the predominant strain.

The weather in the coming Chinese New Year holiday week is likely to exacerbate the problem.

Chinese University microbiologist Paul Chan Kay Sheung has said that the virus is more active in cold, wet conditions.

Temperatures are expected to range between 15 deg C and 21 deg C this week, with humidity at 70 per cent to 100 per cent.

Professor Chan also said that a warm and dry spring - with temperatures ranging between 22 deg C and 27 deg C - would help stop the spread of the influenza virus.

Up to 58 private clinics will stay open over the Chinese New Year holidays, according to a list released by the Medical Association.

Hong Kong has been hit more badly by the flu this year as a different variant has struck.

The annual flu vaccine is effective for less than 5 per cent of Hong Kongers hit by the flu this year.

The vaccine was developed by the World Health Organisation before the variant of the H3N2 strain emerged.