Flu claims Hong Kong’s first child victim of 2023 after girl, 5, develops complications and dies

Hong Kong has recorded its first child fatality from influenza this year after a previously healthy five-year-old girl who caught the flu developed complications and died.

The girl, who had not received a flu jab, fell ill with a fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath and was taken to St Teresa’s Hospital in Mong Kok for treatment on Monday last week.

Her condition worsened the following day and she was transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei and admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit.

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Laboratory tests on the girl’s respiratory specimen came back positive for influenza A (H3). A clinical diagnosis also indicated she had contracted the virus, which was complicated by encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.

She died last Thursday.

Four paediatric flu cases involving severe complications – all caused by the H3 strain – were reported between Sunday and Wednesday. Two patients, aged five and 16, had been inoculated.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau, other government officials and Hospital Authority officials received seasonal flu jabs at Sai Wan Ho general outpatient clinic on Thursday.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau receives a flu jab on Thursday. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Lo warned that the city was approaching the winter season with the Covid-19 mask mandate no longer in force, which presented residents with greater challenges.

He stressed the importance of early vaccination.

“It is important to note that influenza and Covid-19 infections can occur simultaneously. If someone contracts both, the situation can be quite severe,” he said.

“While taking measures to prevent influenza, it is also crucial to prevent Covid-19 infection.

“This is why we started administering seasonal influenza vaccines earlier this year.”

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The Department of Health administered more than 1.56 million doses of the flu vaccine in 2022, a 25 per cent increase over the previous year.

The department said there had been notable progress especially among the elderly, with the flu jab coverage rate for those aged 65 and above rising by 8 per cent. That indicated almost half of the city’s elderly population had been vaccinated.

In care homes for the elderly, the vaccination coverage rate for both residents and staff was 70 per cent.

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“However, we have some concerns regarding children, as the coverage rate for influenza vaccination among those aged 12 or below has slightly decreased by 5 per cent,” Director of Health Ronald Lam Man-kin said.

“Our latest calculations indicate that about 50 per cent of them have been vaccinated.”

This year’s Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Subsidy Scheme started on Thursday.

The Government Vaccination Programme, Seasonal Influenza Vaccination School Outreach Programme and the Residential Care Home Vaccination Programme begin next Thursday.

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