Influenza spike in Hong Kong raises alarm as A-H1 virus claims young life

Professor Lau Yu-lung

22nd April 2024 – (Hong Kong) The Centre for Health Protection in Hong Kong revealed a concerning uptick in influenza cases, with a nearly 3% weekly increase in diagnoses, now approaching baseline levels. Tragically, this season has already recorded about 20 severe cases among children, including the death of an otherwise healthy eight-year-old girl following complications from the A-H1 strain.

Professor Lau Yu-lung, chair of paediatrics at the University of Hong Kong, disclosed details on a radio programme today, noting that the symptoms typically range from confusion and seizures to more severe conditions such as myocarditis and unpredictable encephalitis, often linked to immune deficiencies in patients.

The current influenza outbreak has been ongoing for nearly four months. Initially dominated by the A-H3 virus, the A-H1 strain has recently surpassed it in case numbers. The viruses appear to alternate between quarters, making it challenging to predict the duration of the outbreak. There is also a potential risk of a B-strain influenza outbreak in the upcoming summer or winter.

Professor Lau highlighted the urgency of increasing vaccination rates, especially among children and the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable. Currently, only 40% of older adults are vaccinated.

Additionally, discussions have taken place within an expert committee regarding the procurement of recombinant influenza vaccines, which have been registered in Hong Kong and offer strong protection for the elderly. However, due to incomplete data, including a lack of information on child vaccinations and numerous contraindications, further monitoring is required before making a final decision on their broader use.