Two critical with swine flu in Hong Kong

Posted at 01/21/11 5:57 PM

HONG KONG - Two people were in critical condition in a Hong Kong hospital suffering from swine flu, health officials said Friday, a year and a half after an outbreak killed more than 80 people in the city.

The Chinese financial centre is nervous about infectious diseases, following the outbreak of the SARS virus in 2003, which killed 300 people in the city and a further 500 around the world.

Hong Kong, a city of seven million, has some of the world's most densely populated neighbourhoods, prompting a panicked response from many residents over news of a disease outbreak. Some wear surgical masks to avoid infection.

The city's health department said that the deadly influenza had claimed 83 lives since an outbreak in 2009.

Authorities appeared wary of raising the alarm over the latest cases, with a senior public health official telling RTHK radio there were no plans to shut schools, as the city did in 2009 which drew criticism about an official overreaction.

But there are worries the disease could spread over the next few weeks in the run up to Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel across the country to celebrate with families.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital told AFP "a 21-year-old female is in critical condition after contracting swine flu".

The student, who had returned to Hong Kong from mainland China after falling ill, was admitted to hospital on January 11 and transferred to intensive care on Tuesday, the spokeswoman told AFP. She later confirmed the woman has leukemia.

Also Tuesday, a two-year-old girl was placed in the hospital's intensive care unit after she contracted the disease, the spokeswoman said, adding that she remains in critical condition.

Authorities in the nearby gambling hub of Macau have confirmed a 47-year-old woman was in critical condition with the disease.

Swine flu has killed more than 18,400 people and affected practically all parts of the world since it was uncovered in Mexico and the United States in April 2009, according to the World Health Organization.

In August last year, the agency said swine flu had "largely run its course", declaring an end to the pandemic.

In May 2009, Hong Kong health authorities quarantined around 300 guests and staff at a hotel where the carrier, a Mexican national, had briefly stayed, while education chiefs ordered all primary schools to be closed for two weeks over fears about the illness spreading.

In July 2009, a Philippine maid became the city's first swine flu fatality.

Last month, Hong Kong lowered its public health warning on influenza, weeks after announcing its first human case of bird flu since 2003.

Hong Kong was the site of the world's first major outbreak of bird flu among humans in 1997, when six people died of a mutation of the virus, which is normally confined to poultry.