Call it a case of bad timing, but as Hong Kong works to increase its surveillance for imported MERS cases, their `second flu season' is getting underway.
Hong Kong often sees a biphasic or `double peaked’ flu season, as the chart at the top of this post, and a 2008 PLoS One research paper called Seasonality of Influenza A(H3N2) Virus: A Hong Kong Perspective (1997–2006) illustrate.
As the early signs of MERS and influenza are virtually indistinguishable, this uptick in summertime flu means there will likely be more `false alarms' for authorities to sift through.
First, excerpts from a Hong Kong CHP notice on their uptick in influenza, followed by a report on the last 24 hours of MERS surveillance.
Influenza activity in Hong Kong increasing
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (June 10) appealed to the public to stay vigilant against seasonal influenza as the latest surveillance data showed an increase in local influenza activity, an indicator of the impending arrival of the summer influenza season.
The percentage positive for seasonal influenza viruses increase to 14.8 per cent last week from 8.0 per cent in the week ending May 23 among respiratory specimens received by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch. Among influenza virus detections last week, 78.1 per cent were A(H3N2) while 21.3 per cent were B.
Turning to influenza-like illness (ILI), 10 institutional outbreaks affecting 48 persons were recorded in the week ending June 6 , increasing from three (18 persons) in the week ending May 16. As of yesterday, eight (40 persons) had been recorded so far this week.
The influenza-associated admission rate in public hospitals among children aged under five and the elderly aged 65 or above was respectively 1.21 and 1.06 cases per 10 000 persons last week, both rising from 0.72 and 0.71 respectively in the previous week.
To further monitor local influenza activity and the severity of illness, as in previous influenza seasons, the CHP will collaborate with public hospitals under the Hospital Authority and private hospitals to reactivate the enhanced surveillance of influenza-associated admissions to Intensive Care Units and deaths aged 18 years or above as soon as possible.
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Meanwhile, the latest report on MERS surveillanece shows nearly double the rate of `suspect cases' over the the previous day's report. Of the 33 cases from the latest report, 32 have recent travel history from Korea, while 1 recently arrived from Jordan (see list).
Over the past 48 hours Hong Kong has hospitalized, and tested, 50 suspected MERS cases. Thus far, none have tested positive. There are, however, media reports of new `suspected cases' being isolated appearing almost hourly in the local press.
Update on number of suspected MERS cases
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) today (June 10) reported the number of suspected cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) under investigation, and again urged the public to pay special attention to safety during travel, taking due consideration of health risks of the places of visit.
From noon yesterday (June 9) to noon today, the CHP was notified of 33 suspected cases, comprising 17 who tested negative for MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) upon preliminary testing by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch and the remaining 16 pending test results. Cases are detailed in the attachment. Regarding the outstanding test results, the CHP will update the public in due course.
In addition, five pending test results yesterday tested negative for MERS-CoV.
"In view of the latest situation in Korea, the public should avoid unnecessary travel to Korea, in particular those with chronic illnesses. Travellers in Korea and the Middle East should avoid unnecessary visits to health-care facilities (HCFs)," a spokesman for the CHP said.
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While some of this may seem a bit excessive, Hong Kong well remembers the impact of SARS in 2003, and has vowed never to be caught unprepared again.