Monday, July 17, 2017

Hong Kong Hospitals Scramble To Deal With Mounting Flu Surge



Hong Kong, which installed a new SFH (Secretary for Food & Health) earlier this month (Professor Sophia Chan succeeds Dr. Ko Wing-man), continues to deal with a severe, out-of-season spike in seasonal influenza (see Thursday's Hong Kong's Late Season Flu Continues To Rise), which is putting considerable pressure on local hospitals.  
While Hong Kong often sees a second flu season during the summer, it is usually starts in July or August, not early May, and is generally milder and of shorter duration that their winter season (cite).
On Saturday, nine weeks after this unusual flu spike began, the HK government released the following statement from their Hospital Authority (HA), warning that this heavy summer flu season is likely to continue for some time. 

HA Chairman visits A&E departments and inpatient wards to better understand service situation during flu surge (with photos)
The following is issued on behalf of the Hospital Authority:
The Hospital Authority (HA) Chairman, Professor John Leong, paid a visit to the medical and paediatric wards and accident and emergency (A&E) departments of Tuen Mun Hospital, Pok Oi Hospital and Prince of Wales Hospital yesterday (July 14) to hear from frontline staff about the latest service situation and manpower arrangements during summer flu surge, and express gratitude for their hard work and dedication during the peak service period.

Professor Leong said that the summer influenza season had arrived earlier this year with numerous severe cases. This contributed to the continued surge in demand of inpatient admissions and the high occupancy rates of medical and paediatric wards in public hospitals.

Professor Leong expressed his appreciation to the healthcare staff for their unceasing service during the peak service period. The HA will continue to implement the enhanced measures for the winter surge, including opening new beds and increasing manpower through the Special Honorarium Scheme. He said he believed that over 360 resident trainees joined different public hospitals on July 1 and could share the workload of frontline colleagues.

It is anticipated that the heavy demand will continue amid the prevailing high level of local influenza activity. Professor Leong appealed to the public for their understanding for the recent high inpatients occupancy rate in public hospitals, meaning that patient might have to wait longer for consultation at A&E departments or admission to wards. Stable patients are urged to co-operate with clinical staff regarding transfer to rehabilitation hospitals to improve the patient flow.

Professor Leong reminded the public to observe strict hand, personal and environmental hygiene to help revent respiratory diseases. Members of the public, especially the elderly and children, are advised to receive the influenza vaccination promptly.

Ends/Saturday, July 15, 2017

Issued at HKT 13:00

Yesterday the HK government published the following report, where Hong Kong's newly appointed Chief Executive Carrie Lam called upon the Hospital Authority to develop a response plan as soon as possible.

HA Chief Executive to promote the development of programs to deal with influenza
July 16, 2017

Chief Executive Mrs Lam said that this year the situation is more severe flu, increased hospital admissions, she asked the Hospital Authority to develop response plans as soon as possible, the Government will fully cooperate on resources.

Carrie Lam, today went to the hospital after the inspection Yilishabo to the media, said the recent increase in the number of attendances, hospital great pressure, she immediately started studying the HA requirements, in addition to additional resources, additional staff, but also hopes to launch short-term measures to alleviate slow situation.

Secretary for Food and Health Bureau said Chen met with the onset of the media on another occasion, public hospitals emergency room and medical wards are very full, the authorities will closely monitor the hope that the Hospital Authority to report on the situation. 
Chen said the onset, the authorities have carried out three or rebuild the hospital awaiting the Finance Committee plan funding, including the Prince of Wales Hospital, Tuen Mun Hospital, Kai Tak hospital, in hope that the money will be passed during this legislature, otherwise, bidding and engineering have to be adjourned, a great impact.

Today, Hong Kong's new SFH gave the following statement at a press conference:
SFH on seasonal influenza 
Following is the transcript of remarks made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, at the Legislative Council Complex today (July 17):
Reporter: (About the key measures taken by the Government to tackle the summer surge.)
Secretary for Food and Health: First of all, we had a meeting with the Hospital Authority (HA) as well as the Centre for Health Protection (of the Department of Health (DH)) very early this morning in order to better understand the latest situation of seasonal influenza. The HA has reported to me their measures in terms of tackling the increased demand of services arising from the summer surge. Just now, we have already talked about some of the existing measures that we have strengthened and the HA has also explored the possibility of working with outside agencies to get more manpower. For example, doctors of the DH may use their outside office time to help the HA in their general out-patient clinics. Another possibility is to work with private hospitals to increase the number of beds to tackle the existing problem. So, these are some of the measures plus the HA also got other measures in terms of hiring more part-time healthcare professionals.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Monday, July 17, 2017
         Issued at HKT 17:31 

Meanwhile, the CHP (Centre for Health Protection) has issued an appeal to all residents to increase their vigilance against influenza. Of particular note, since last Thursday' report, Hong Kong has reported an additional 34 flu-related ICU admissions, and 26 flu-related deaths.
     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (July 17) issued a letter to doctors, hospitals, institutions and schools to update them on the latest situation and remind the community of the need for heightened vigilance amid a marked increase in activity of seasonal influenza in Hong Kong recently.

     "Hong Kong entered the summer influenza season in mid May. Our latest surveillance data show that the local seasonal influenza activity has been increasing markedly in the past two weeks and has reached a very high level. We foresee that the influenza activity will remain at a high level in the coming weeks. We strongly urge the public, particularly children, the elderly and chronic disease patients, to observe strict personal, hand and environmental hygiene for better personal protection against the seasonal influenza," a spokesman for the CHP said.

     The positive percentage of seasonal influenza viruses among respiratory specimens received by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch increased from 31.48 to 35.66 per cent from the week of June 25 to that of July 2 (20.76 per cent in the week of June 18). Most detections between June 18 and July 8 were influenza A(H3N2) (91.3 per cent), followed by influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 (5 per cent).

     Due to the recent predominance of influenza A (H3N2), elderly people aged 65 years or above were particularly affected. Most of them also have underlying illnesses.

     The number of institutional outbreaks of influenza-like illness (ILI) increased from 30 (affecting 210 persons) in the week of June 18 to a range of 41 and 44 (affecting 221 to 236 persons) per week in the past three weeks. In the past three weeks, most outbreaks (52 per cent) were reported by residential care homes for the elderly, followed by child care centres/ kindergartens (22.8 per cent).

     Regarding severe cases, 270 adult cases of influenza-associated admission to the Intensive Care Unit or death (including 183 deaths) were recorded with the Hospital Authority and private hospitals during the enhanced surveillance from May 5 to yesterday. Separately, 13 paediatric cases of severe influenza-associated complication or death (including three deaths) were recorded in the same period, with eight influenza A(H3N2) and five influenza A(H1N1)pdm09.
         (Continue . . . )

The CHP also issued a letter to all local doctors today, alerting them to the sharp increase in flu cases over the past few weeks.
Taiwan, which has been reporting a similar - albeit less severe - summer flu surge, recorded for the second week slightly lowered numbers in their latest report, although flu activity remains high.

All reminders that influenza - even seasonal flu - can behave unpredictably at times, and should never be underestimated.

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