Hong Kong Gears Up Before Arrival Of Flu Season

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The Hong Kong Department of Health is implementing a series of measures before the arrival of the influenza season in order to gear up the community to prevent influenza, Controller of CHP, Dr Thomas Tsang said today.

While current influenza activity has been stable, Dr Tsang said he expected the flu season could arrive some time over the next four weeks.

Dr Tsang said five health talks for managements of schools and child care centres on the prevention of influenza were planned by the CHP in collaboration with Education Bureau and Social Welfare Department. The first health talk was given today.

"An updated guideline on prevention of communicable diseases in schools, kindergartens and child care centres with highlights on hygiene and infection control measures was introduced in the talk.

"School managements have been briefed on the criteria of class suspension when there is a flu outbreak in their schools. They have also been advised to keep parents properly informed about the latest situation," Dr Tsang said.

More health talks of this kind would be delivered in the coming few weeks for schools and other institutions, he noted.

CHP has sent a letter via Education Bureau reminding schools with significant intake of cross-border students about the importance of regular and thorough disinfection of school buses. These schools were also asked to remind parents of cross-border children not to send their children with influenza symptoms to attend school under 48 hours after fever subsided.

Dr Tsang said the CHP would publish on its website every weekday starting today to put up the names of schools and other institutions with influenza-like-illness outbreaks reported during the past 24 hours (cut-off time at noon).

Other influenza related data and statistics will also be uploaded to inform the community about the latest situation.

Dr Tsang said he expected an increase in the number of schools reported influenza outbreaks as Hong Kong approaches the flu season. During 2005-07, the highest number of institutional outbreaks of influenza-like-illness reported every week during the flu season was between 10 and 32. In 2008, the highest weekly number of outbreaks was 106.

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"Anticipating the arrival of the flu season over the next few weeks, we will enhance publicity on television and radio through Announcements of Public Interest," Dr Tsang said.

Noting that influenza can result in complications such as pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitits and sepsis, Dr Tsang said influenza was also a common cause of hospitalizations among children in Hong Kong.

"During the year 2008, about 1 200 children aged 12 years or below were hospitalized in hospitals under the Hospital Authority due to influenza, while the figures for 2007 was about 1,400," he said.

The CHP, the Hospital Authority and private hospitals would maintain a high degree of surveillance on the trend of influenza-related complications in children, he said.

Dr Tsang appealed to people who are at higher risk of complications from influenza to get vaccinated against the disease if they have not already done so.

So far over 260 000 doses of flu vaccines have been administered to eligible target groups under the current Government Influenza Vaccination Programme (GIVP). It will last as long as the vaccine stock lasts.

Meanwhile, some 75000 doses of flu vaccines have been administered to target children under the new Influenza Vaccination Subsidy Scheme (IVSS).

Dr Tsang said the vaccine would confer protection against influenza related complications and lead to fewer hospital admissions.

"Target groups under the GIVP and IVSS should get vaccination as soon as possible as the flu season is at the corner," he said.

He advised children, elderly people and those with chronic diseases to consult their doctors for medical advice promptly and take more rest at home if they have influenza-like symptoms.

To prevent influenza, people are also advised to

* Maintain good personal and environmental hygiene;
* Wash hands after sneezing, coughing or cleaning the nose;
* Maintain good ventilation;
* Avoid visiting crowded places with poor ventilation.

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