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Friday, March 14, 2008

Flu Outbreak closes Hong Kong Schools

Outbreaks of influenza-like illness (ILI) in over 20 schools that are linked to the deaths of three children have caused the government to shut all schools in Hong Kong for two weeks, keeping half a million children away, reported Reuters.

According to information from the Center for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) in Hong Kong, up to yesterday, Wednesday 12th March, health officials had received reports of 184 ILI cases in outbreaks affecting 23 schools. Officials from the CHP have visited all the schools and given appropriate advice, according to a press release on the CHP website.

ILI can be caused by influenza or other respiratory viruses, said the CHP, who will be giving out public information on seasonal influenza today. The center has also set up a hotline.

Three children, aged 2, 3 and 7 have died in the last two weeks, the older two had seasonal flu and the cause of illness in the youngest is still undetermined, said Reuters.

The government has closed the schools as a precaution because the number of young children getting the flu seems to be higher this year, Health Secretary York Chow told a press conference. The second reason was the number of deaths so far.

A fourth death was reported to the CHP yesterday, that of a 21 month old boy who developed fever and cough on February 22nd, was admitted to Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital the next day, and was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Prince of Wales Hospital after developing generalized seizure. He died on 22nd February. A sample taken from the boy tested negative for influenza types A and B, and there is no evidence that he had influenza, said the CHP. The case is still being investigated.

Another 3 year old boy is in a stable condition, according to the CHP who received an update on his condition yesterday, when he was admitted to the ICU at Princess Margaret Hospital with symptoms of persistent fever, cough and shortness of breath. A sample taken from him has tested positive for influenza type A (H1N1).

Health officials have visited the kindergarten the boy attended, where so far no ILI outbreak has been reported.

Giving out further information on the 7 year old boy who died in Tuen Mun Hospital after being admitted with respiratory and neurological symptoms, the CHP said a sample taken from him has tested positive for influenza A (H1N1), and the case has been referred to the Coroner's Court.

While it is natural for parents to be concerned, experts have told the press there is no cause for panic and that every few years or so there is a higher than usual incidence of flu outbreaks.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong Department of Health suggests people boost their immune system against the flu by "having a proper diet, regular exercise, and adequate rests, reducing stress and avoiding smoking". They also urge people to "maintain good personal and environmental hygiene."

Hong Kong's hotline for seasonal flu information is on telephone number 2125-1133, open Monday to Friday, 9 am to 6 pm (provided by Center for Health Protection, CHP).

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