- New test will help doctors carry out better diagnosis and provide patients better treatment in public hospitals
- Depending on experience on paediatric patients and feedback received from doctors, it may be offered to adults later
Public hospitals are set to introduce an expanded test for respiratory infections for children which will cover more types of viruses and bacteria, as the city is bracing for the arrival of the peak flu season this winter.
Measures to prevent flu are being stepped up as medical experts expect the flu strain H3, which last dominated Hong Kong during the summer of 2017 and is more likely to affect the elderly, will be prevalent in the upcoming peak flu season.
"There is a cycle for the flu strains to dominate," Dr Raymond Lai Wai-man, chief infection control officer of the Hospital Authority, said. "We are gradually losing our antibodies against H3 … when a (small number of) H3 cases emerge, it could affect more people as we don't have enough antibodies against it."
Lai feared more elderly people would be affected if the H3 virus became dominant this flu season, which is expected to begin around late December or early January.
When the H3 virus was dominant in the 2014/15 winter flu season, almost 63 per cent of the total flu cases were reported from the elderly people, compared to 25.2 per cent when flu strains H1 and B were prevalent in the following year.
The latest surveillance data from the Centre for Health Protection showed that the city had not yet entered the peak flu season. So far, only 1.78 per cent of respiratory specimens handled by the health authorities tested positive to seasonal flu viruses, way below the threshold of 10.3 per cent, which indicates the beginning of a peak flu season.
The existing flu test can identify three major types of viruses that may lead to respiratory infections, while the new test will cover more types of viruses as well as bacteria.
Using samples from a patient's nose, the test will be able to provide results within two hours.
Lai said the test would help doctors carry out better diagnosis and provide patients better treatment.
"It is not only flu that prevails during the winter, there may be other types of viruses as well," Lai said.
He said the test would usually be offered to the children who would require admission. Some hospitals will also offer the test to those who are waiting to see a doctor.
He said whether the test would be extended to adults would depend on the experiences on paediatric patients and the feedback received from doctors.
Lai also said vaccination was the most effective way to prevent flu.
He said more than 195,000 flu shots had been given out at the authority's clinics and hospitals under the Government Vaccination Programme, which began last month. Among them, more than 28,000 were employees of the authority.
While a new antiviral drug for flu came to the Hong Kong market earlier this year, Lai said more research would be needed before the authority considered offering it to patients in public hospitals. He said some findings showed that around 10 per cent of the patients who had used the drug later developed a resistance, while it did not happen much with Tamiflu, the antiviral drug currently used in public hospitals.
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