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Statutory notification of Novel influenza A infection

     A spokesman for the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health said today (February 17) that the Government will amend the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap 599) (the Ordinance) and its subsidiary legislation, the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation (Cap 599A) (the Regulation), to include Novel influenza A infection as one of the statutorily notifiable diseases and specified diseases, and add influenza virus type A (subtype H10) as one of the scheduled infectious agents.

     "Apart from the influenza viruses which can circulate among humans and cause seasonal influenza, many other influenza A viruses are found in birds and other animal species. Some of these animal viruses may, however, occasionally infect humans, causing disease ranging from mild conjunctivitis to severe pneumonia and even death. These are known as novel influenza viruses, against which the human population has low or no immunity," the spokesman explained.

     Given the potentially unpredictable behaviour of novel influenza viruses and the fact that the majority of the population has no immunity against these viruses, vigilance and close monitoring is needed for Novel influenza A infection.

     It is also foreseen that with frequent international travel, more imported human cases of Novel influenza A infections, such as influenza A (H6N1) or influenza A (H10N8) or other subtypes, may occur in Hong Kong, besides the five imported sporadic influenza A (H7N9) human infections detected so far locally.

     Against this background, the Government has used the name "Novel influenza A infection" to include all subtypes of novel influenza infections in humans as a notifiable disease. The Government has also added subtype H10 to the various influenza virus type A as one of the scheduled infection agents, as human cases of influenza A (H10) infection detected so far have resulted in severe infection.

     According to the amendments, "Influenza A (H2), Variant Influenza A (H3N2), Influenza A (H5), Influenza A (H7), Influenza A (H9)" will be repealed from the list of infectious diseases and replaced by "Novel influenza A infection" in Schedule 1 to the Ordinance; whereas "Influenza virus type A (subtype H2, H5 and H7)" will be repealed from the list of infectious agents and replaced by "Influenza virus type A (subtype H2, H5, H7 and H10)" in Schedule 2 to the Ordinance. Additionally, "Influenza A (H2), Influenza A (H5), Influenza A (H7), Influenza A (H9) or Swine Influenza" will be repealed from the list of specified diseases and replaced by "Novel influenza A infection" in Section 56 of the Regulation.

     "The legislative amendments will be gazetted on February 21 with immediate effect. The amendments will make Hong Kong better prepared against the disease by facilitating early disease detection and implementation of appropriate public health measures if they are called for, depending on public health risk assessment," the spokesman said.

     Medical practitioners are reminded to stay alert on cases of Novel influenza A infection and are required by law to notify the Director of Health of any suspected cases. Persons in charge of a laboratory are required to notify leakage of these viruses in the laboratory that may pose a public health risk.

     "The CHP will issue letters to doctors and the medical laboratory sector to inform them of the relevant legislative amendments and the revised reporting criteria,"the spokesman said.

     "In Hong Kong, the CHP has a sensitive laboratory surveillance system for influenza virus. The CHP conducts characterisation of all influenza virus isolates including antigenic and genetic analysis. Upon detection of any such cases, the CHP will conduct epidemiological investigation, contact tracing and other necessary control measures, to ascertain and contain the extent of transmission of infection," he said.

     The spokesman reminded members of the public to observe good personal and environmental hygiene at all times to prevent influenza.

Ends/Monday, February 17, 2014
Issued at HKT 19:29


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