Thursday, March 24, 2005

The shoe is still on the other foot

Hong Kong certainly seems to be taking the situation in Vietnam seriously, and in particular the possibility of a flu outbreak in Quang Binh. Hong Kong authorities have set up a telephone hotline for travelers to Vietnam who feel unwell after visiting, have established a special liaison with WHO and the Vietnamese Consulate in Hong Kong to get the latest information and are setting up temperature screening at the airport with informational leaflets on all in-bound flights from Vietnam.

The Quang Binh story appears to have precipitated tougher measures (via The Standard [HK]):
"Up to [Wednesday] morning, the WHO tells us they are still investigating the reported outbreak,'' [Dr. Thomas] Tsang said. ``The situation in Vietnam is changing fast but if the WHO confirms that bird flu is being transmitted from humans to humans, we do not rule out endorsing further measures, including issuing a travel warning.''

Asked if people from Vietnam will be banned from entering Hong Kong, or have to go through compulsory health checks before being allowed to enter should there be a confirmed bird flu pandemic in the country, Tsang said the government "does not rule out taking further measures.''
Tsang is a consultant to the Centre for Health Protection. He noted Hong Kong is just entering peak flu season, and unlike last year when most strains were H3N2, this year they are seeing a mixture of H3N2, H1N1 and influenza B virus. Reports from public clinics of influenza-like illness were up 78% from the previous week. Tsang said Taiwan and Japan were also seeing a high number of flu cases.

Meanwhile, reports from Cambodia and Vietnam indicate that the H5N1 strain may be changing once again. We will follow up with a summary shortly. So while we wait for the other shoe to drop with bird flu, the "garden variety" viruses are still with us, causing serious illness and death in Asia, and co-circulating with H5N1, with the obvious increase in chances for reassortment and recombination.