When we think about the flu in Hong Kong or other communicable diseases, these are the pictures that immediately come to mind: people on the Hong Kong subway wearing surgical masks, anxiously trying to keep away from strangers to avoid getting infected. Since the city is so densely populated, diseases like the flu can spread quickly. Even though Hong Kong is free of SARS today, the outbreak of the epidemic in 2003 left a lasting impression on its citizens.
Mere rumors about cases of the flu in Hong Kong such as the swine flu might cause a panic, and it should thus not alarm you to see people in the streets wearing surgical masks. These bad experiences, however, are not necessarily a reason to tremble in anticipation of a future epidemic. While diseases can spread more quickly in Hong Kong than elsewhere, the government is now also much better prepared to fight any potential cases of the flu in Hong Kong.
In this article, we would like to give you a short run-through of the most common types of the flu in Hong Kong and the minor precautions you should be aware of, regarding the regular seasonal flu in Hong Kong as well as the swine flu and Avian Influenza, or bird flu.
Just like in many other countries, there are regular seasonal epidemics of the flu in Hong Kong caused by circulating human influenza strains. The common flu season in Hong Kong usually peaks from January to March and from July to August every year. However, these are usually mild strains of flu in Hong Kong which only undergo minor genetic changes over time, so a large part of the population has developed immunity against it. Furthermore, annual flu vaccinations have helped to minimize the impact of the seasonal influenza. To prevent infection with the seasonal influenza, the Hong Kong Center for Health Protection advises you to keep a good personal hygiene and to consider getting a vaccination against the flu in Hong Kong.
We all remember the year 1997, when the influenza virus H5N1, which was known to infect birds only, suddenly also infected humans in Hong Kong. What followed was an influenza outbreak that caused half a dozen deaths among the Hong Kong population and triggered major international concern over a potential global influenza pandemic. However, the outbreak was successfully contained. Most of the Avian Influenza patients had been in close contact with infected birds or poultry. There were only a small number of cases where the infection was thought to have taken place through close contact to an infected person over a longer period of time.
Since 1997, the H5N1 virus has been found in poultry and birds in Hong Kong. However, there have not been any deaths caused by the bird flu in Hong Kong since 2003. The Hong Kong government has put in place stringent safety measures, including strict restrictions on Hong Kong imports of birds and poultry, to prevent another spread of the virus to humans. Therefore, Avian Influenza does not pose an acute threat to you as an expat living in Hong Kong. The authorities advise you, though, to stay away from chicken and wild birds and to always cook any chicken meat thoroughly. For more information, check the government information site on the prevention of Avian Influenza and the website of the Hong Kong Center for Health Protection.
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