Flu death toll climbs to 164 in HK

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By TI­MOTHY CHUI in Hong Kong tim@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Hong Kong’s flu sea­son death toll reached 164 as of Wed­nes­day as more than 200 cases were listed as se­ri­ous and the city’s health au­thor­i­ties scram­bled to sup­ply vac­cines and hos­pi­tal beds.

The gov­ern­ment has or­dered public hos­pi­tals to take in­ven­to­ries of their stocks of an­tivi­ral flu drugs, with new batches not ex­pected to be de­liv­ered un­til the end of April or ear­lyMay. The flu sea­son is ex­pected to end in­March.

The de­lay has oc­curred be­cause stocks held else­where are al­ready spo­ken for, said Le­ung Ting-hung, con­troller of the Cen­ter for Health Pro­tec­tion.

Le­ung said the amount on or­der will not be suf­fi­cient to in­oc­u­late the en­tire pop­u­la­tion, and vac­cines will be sup­plied on a pri­or­ity ba­sis to atrisk groups such as the young, the el­derly and women who are preg­nant.

Au­thor­i­ties world­wide are seek­ing fresh batches of vac­cines af­ter the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rec­om­mended vac­cine turned out to be a mis­match for this sea­son’s strain.

Le­ung said peo­ple who have al­ready been in­oc­u­lated dur­ing the cur­rent sea­son should not take the newer vac­cine be­cause of the risk of pos­si­ble com­pli­ca­tions from mix­ing med­i­ca­tions.

Sev­eral se­ri­ous cases have emerged in the past few days, he said, but the rate of new cases re­mains sta­ble, and the au­thor­i­ties will mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion over the com­ing weeks.

The city is grap­pling with the more ag­gres­sive H3N2 flu strain, and in­fec­tious dis­eases ex­pert Yuen Kwok-yung from the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong said this sea­son’s fa­tal­i­ties could reach 400.

Gabriel Le­ung Cheuk-wai, the dean of the uni­ver­sity’s med­i­cal fac­ulty, said the av­er­age death toll ranges from 500 to 1,000, though years where H3N2 is the dom­i­nant strain see higher mor­tal­ity rates of 800 to 1,000.

The­Hos­pi­tal Author­ity has an­nounced an ur­gent ex­pan­sion plan af­ter ad­mit­ting that it un­der­es­ti­mated the sit­u­a­tion in the city’s wards, with some pa­tients forced to re­main in hall­ways.

Public hos­pi­tals will add more than 200 beds and

dom­i­nant in­crease clinic quo­tas by 3,800 to help com­bat the out­break, while staff are be­ing of­fered spe­cial in­cen­tives to ac­cept ex­tra shifts or work over Chi­nese New Year.

Au­thor­i­ties re­main vig­i­lant for fresh clus­ters of cases brought on by the heavy travel ex­pected over theNewYear hol­i­day.

The num­ber of chil­dren hos­pi­tal­ized in the city is on the rise, from 2.61 chil­dren per 1,000 peo­ple be­fore the out­break to 3.08 now.

Le­ung urged par­ents to help their chil­dren main­tain per­sonal hy­giene and avoid crowded places while call­ing on peo­ple with symptoms to wear protective masks.

The city’s in­ten­sive care units have been swamped be­cause of the flu out­break, with 90 per­cent of the 201 ICU beds oc­cu­pied and more doc­tors work­ing 24-hour shifts, ac­cord­ing to the Front­line Doc­tors’ Union.

Union Chair­man Seamus Siu Yuk-le­ung said doc­tors are com­plain­ing that the num­ber of overnight shifts they have to work will dou­ble to 10 nights a month in the com­ing weeks if cur­rent in­fec­tion rates con­tinue.

He said the lack of space has oc­curred be­cause a planned ex­pan­sion of the city’s in­ten­sive care units has been hit by long de­lays.

Wards reached full ca­pac­ity over the week­end, with the av­er­age in­pa­tient bed oc­cu­pancy rate reach­ing 110 per­cent across the Hos­pi­tal Author­ity’s 16 hos­pi­tals. The Kowloon East Clus­ter and the United Chris­tian Hos­pi­tal were hard­est hit with an oc­cu­pancy rate of 120 per­cent.

A to­tal of 150,000 peo­ple have re­ceived flu vac­cines since Septem­ber. Lo­cal mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists have floated plans to cre­ate a lo­cal vac­cine pro­duc­tion base to wean Hong Kong off over­seas sources.

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