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Swine Flu Kills 9 in Hong Kong

Posted on Feb 09, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

Swine Flu, the Influenza A variant which first made headlines around the world during 2009, has reemerged as a potentially severe threat within the Chinese city of Hong Kong in recent weeks. Since January 24th 2011 there have been 9 confirmed deaths due to Swine Flu infection in the city, and current Hong Kong Hospital Authority figures indicate that there are 38 patients in local hospitals seeking treatment for the disease. Hong Kong is currently entering peak flu season after the coldest and driest winter on record. According to a recent study by doctors at the University of Hong Kong, the unusual weather conditions over the last few months have contributed to the spread of the disease as Influenza Type A variants thrive in cool, dry climates. Swine Flu, which was initially identified in Mexico during April of 2009, has been responsible for approximately 18,000 deaths globally since it first appeared, according to the World Health Organization. During the 2009 outbreak of the disease Hong Kong health authorities were placed on high alert; however, the major cause of Flu outbreaks in that year were not attributed to the Swine Flu Strain. This year over 90% of Flu cases reported in the city have been attributed to Swine Flu, which has posed concern to medical professionals in the region. According to University of Hong Kong doctors the main threat posed by the Swine Flu Virus is with regards to the fact that it is radically different from other Influenza Viruses, with infected patients showing decreased levels of a vital antibody known as IgC2. The lack of this antibody in patients is making Swine Flu deadlier than other Flu strains this year, as the deficiency radically increases the chance of secondary infection from bacterial based illnesses such as streptococcus pneumoniae, and staphylococcus aureus. Recently conducted studies have found that the Flu strain present in the city this year is a radically different variant from those seen in 2007 and 2008, but is much more similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu strain. The Spanish Flu, which caused a global pandemic from 1917 - 1920, was responsible for an estimated 50 Million deaths world wide. The latest reported Flu fatality in Hong Kong was a young boy, aged 14 months, who died in the Caritas Medical Centre located in Sham Shui Po. Presently it is unknown whether the child had contracted human Swine Flu, however if positively identified as the cause of death it would bring the total number of confirmed Swine Flu fatalities in the city to 10 since the middle of January. The outbreak poses a grave concern due to Hong Kong's status as a regional travel and shipping hub. An estimated 92,000 tourists and visitors flock to the city each day, pointing to the risk of the virus spreading overseas in its more virulent form. It is not the first time that Hong Kong has seen the outbreak of a major infectious disease, with the SARS epidemic in 2003 originating in southern China eventually causing 775 deaths worldwide, of which 299 were in Hong Kong. The total number of Flu cases within Hong Kong has been lower than expected since the start of 2011. However, according to health authorities this is primarily due to the fact that many local schools were closed over the Chinese New Year holiday. Health Authorities have warned that the incidence of flu cases will most likely increase as schools return from the break. The Centre for Health Protection controller, Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said that, based on past experience, any school based outbreak of the virus would most likely involve up to a dozen students. The Centre stated that due to the risk posed to students, any school where a student has died from the Swine Flu virus should suspend classes for at least a week; going on to say that this rule should also be applied in the event that 100 cases of flu like symptoms are displayed within a single student body - even if there are no deaths. Health Authorities in Hong Kong are currently recommending that any individual experiencing flu-like symptoms wear a surgical mask while outside the home, and consult a doctor as soon as possible. Any children displaying flu symptoms should be kept home from school. In order to combat seasonal flu and the Swine Flu viruses the Hong Kong government is offering a vaccination subsidy scheme for qualified persons. More information can be found on the Hospital Authority Website.
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