CHP urges vigilance against communicable diseases in new school year

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (August 25) will issue letters to kindergartens as well as primary and secondary schools to remind the management of schools to stay alert to common childhood communicable diseases which may lead to outbreaks when classes resume next Friday (September 1).

     "Based on seasonal patterns and past surveillance data, we expect that sporadic institutional outbreaks of chickenpox, respiratory illnesses or hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) may occur in the new school year when students and staff gather on campus. Good personal, hand, food and environmental hygiene are essential against infections," a spokesman for the CHP said.

A. Chickenpox

     Chickenpox is the most common notifiable infectious disease in Hong Kong and is highly communicable. Children are most affected. Locally, there are two seasonal peaks. The number of chickenpox cases usually starts to rise in October and peaks in December and January, while a smaller peak is also observed in June and July.

     A total of 368 institutional chickenpox outbreaks affecting 2 272 persons had been recorded in 2017 as of August 16, including 160 outbreaks (947 children) in kindergartens or child care centres and 181 (1 208 pupils) in primary schools. On the whole, 6 636 chickenpox cases had been reported this year as of yesterday (August 24), compared with 4 758 in the same period last year.

B. Hand, foot and mouth disease and enterovirus infection

     Although local HFMD activity returned to a baseline level in mid-August after its peak in July, sporadic outbreaks may occur in schools and institutions where HFMD can easily spread among young children with close contact. A smaller peak may also occur from October to December.

     In 2017, 44 cases of enterovirus (EV) 71 infection had been recorded as of yesterday, which is more than the 19 cases in the same period of 2016, whereas three cases of severe paediatric EV infection (other than EV71 and poliovirus) were recorded each in 2017 as of yesterday and the same period in 2016. The three children this year were aged from 6 days to 2 years. Two had meningitis and one had transverse myelitis. Two of them required intensive care during hospitalisation.

C. Scarlet fever

     Scarlet fever (SF) is transmitted through either respiratory droplets or direct contact with infected respiratory secretions and affects children most. Parents have to take extra care of their children in maintaining strict hygiene.

     While SF activity has been on the decline after peaking in June and July, it is usually higher from November to March and is expected to increase when classes resume. As of yesterday, 1 427 SF cases had been reported to the CHP in 2017, representing a marked increase from 851 in the same period in 2016.

D. Influenza and respiratory illnesses

     After a significant rise in seasonal influenza (SI) activity this summer, it is expected that SI activity would soon return to a baseline level. Although influenza is usually self-limiting, it may cause serious illness even in healthy children. Parents are advised to consult family doctors for SI vaccination for their children later for personal protection before the winter season arrives.

     "If students or staff develop fever, respiratory symptoms, diarrhoea, vomiting or skin rash, schools should strongly advise them not to return to campus and to promptly seek medical advice. Management of schools should observe precautions on campus, such as avoiding sharing clothing or slippers, to prevent possible transmission of diseases," the spokesman added.

     Schools are reminded to follow the Guidelines on Prevention of Communicable Diseases on preventive and control measures as well as management of outbreaks, which should be reported to the CHP for prompt follow-up. Schools may refer to the CHP's pages on chickenpoxHFMD and EV71 infection, SF and SI for more information.

Ends/Friday, August 25, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:10