According to the latest Flu Express published by the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), although the local influenza activity remains elevated – it has decreased significantly from its peak over the last two weeks.

Some of the Mainland media and internet users have been spreading rumours online – claiming the summer flu in Hong Kong is comparable to SARS in 2003 – despite showing signs of ease.

Mainland tourists cancel trips to Hong Kong due to summer influenza

Hong Kong Tourist Association’s (HKTA) executive director Timothy Chui suspected there are internet users who maliciously spread rumours of an epidemic outbreak in Hong Kong, which has badly affected the tourism industry. The association had been informed that close to 330 mainland tour groups – involving more than tens of thousands of mainland tourists – had cancelled their visit to Hong Kong, which was originally scheduled within the period from last weekend till end of August.

Rumours are exaggerating the severity of the influenza season in Hong Kong this summer by comparing to the number of deaths resulted from SARS in 2003. Source: Screen capture from Sina Weibo
Rumours are exaggerating the severity of the influenza season in Hong Kong this summer by comparing to the number of deaths resulted from SARS in 2003. Source: Screen capture from Sina Weibo

The association has sent a letter to the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan – demanding a speedy clarification from the Hong Kong government. Chui further lamented, if the rumours continue to spread – Hong Kong residents might possibly be denied entering nearby countries such as Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

On 12 August, Chan echoed to the media, after attending a radio programme, that the government had already clarified the current state of summer influenza in Hong Kong to the corresponding department in Mainland China.

“We should not only look at the number of deaths. If we look at the mortality rate, it’s actually comparable to what we had over the past two years. It’s not appropriate to compare the summer flu to SARS,” she explained.

Number of deaths should not be compared directly to SARS

As of 9 August, 489 severe cases, including 348 deaths, were recorded. Separately, 19 cases of severe paediatric (aged below 18 years) influenza-associated complication/death, including three deaths, were recorded in the same period.

Professor Shu-cheong Hui from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)’s department of Medicine and Therapeutics, pointed out the death figures should not be directly compared to other epidemics without considering the overall number of infected patients.

The past statistics indicated that the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong was far more serious – whereby out of 1,755 people infected, 299 were killed – and the mortality rate reached approximately 17%. On the other hand, the summer flu has resulted in more than 14,000 people admitted to hospital for treatment. The mortality rate is around 2.1%, a figure comparable to winter or summer influenza seasons over the past few years.

Additionally, Hui also explained that most of the deaths are elderly and chronic disease patients, who are prone to pneumonia, respiratory failure, bacterial infections and other complications.

SCDC: Shanghai’s annual influenza season “under control”

Meanwhile, Shanghai has also entered the annual influenza season. According to the Shanghai Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (SCDC), the situation is currently “stable and under control”.

“The flu spread in the city is stable and controllable,” affirmed Pan Hao, director of the SCDC’s communicable disease control and prevention institute. “The H3N2 virus, which led to seasonal flu, has become the most prevalent strain in the city since July and should enter a downturn next month,” he added.

Pan also clarified Hong Kong’s summer influenza season is totally “incomparable” to the SARS outbreak in 2003. MIMS

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