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Public and travellers urged to guard against infectious diseases in Lunar New Year holiday
     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (February 14) reminded the public of the high level of activities of seasonal influenza and scarlet fever locally around the Lunar New Year. Travellers should also pay attention to avian influenza and other infectious diseases during the Lunar New Year holiday.
     "When influenza is prevalent, the public are reminded to avoid going to crowded or poorly ventilated public places both locally and when travelling outside Hong Kong. High-risk individuals may consider putting on surgical masks in such places," a spokesman for the CHP said.
     "To guard against avian influenza, travellers should avoid poultry contact and visiting markets with poultry, purchasing live or freshly slaughtered poultry, or touching poultry or birds or their droppings."
     "During the festive season, wash hands frequently and eat thoroughly cooked and healthy food. Strict personal, hand, food and environmental hygiene remain keys to safeguarding infectious diseases," the spokesman added.
Seasonal influenza

     According to the latest surveillance data, the positive percentage of seasonal influenza viruses among respiratory specimens received by the CHP slightly decreased from 24.65 per cent in the week ending February 3 to 24.14 per cent in the following week. The local seasonal influenza activity is anticipated to remain at a high level for some time.
     Globally, influenza activity remained high in the temperate region of the northern hemisphere. Of note, the influenza activity in the United States in this season has already reached a very high level with the proportion of influenza-like illness among outpatient visits in the previous week exceeding the highest level recorded after the 2009 pandemic. In Europe, influenza activity was widespread in the majority of reporting countries. In Asia, the overall influenza activities in Mainland China, Macao, Taiwan and Japan were still at a high level.
     All members of the public aged 6 months or above, except those with known contraindications, are recommended to get vaccinated against seasonal influenza as early as possible for personal protection if they have not yet received any seasonal influenza vaccines in the 2017-18 season, especially children, the elderly and those with underlying illnesses. People should promptly seek medical advice if influenza-like symptoms develop so that appropriate treatment can be initiated as early as possible to prevent potential complications.
     After the Lunar New Year holiday, children with fever and respiratory symptoms should not attend school till 48 hours after fever has subsided. Parents and carers are reminded to render assistance in prevention, care and control for vulnerable people.

Scarlet fever

     The local surveillance data showed that the activity of scarlet fever remains at a high level after the surge in November 2017. In December 2017 and January 2018, 412 and 410 scarlet fever cases were reported respectively.
     "Based on the past epidemiological pattern, we expect that scarlet fever activity will continue to remain at a high level in February. If children develop fever, sore throat, rash or a distinctive strawberry-like tongue, parents should take them for medical attention for prompt diagnosis and management," the spokesman said.
Avian influenza
     Three human cases of avian influenza A(H7N9) and two human cases of avian influenza A(H5N6) have been reported in Mainland China since November 2017, including an H7N9 case in Guangdong recently. Based on their seasonal pattern, the activity of avian influenza viruses is expected to remain at a high level in winter.
     "Travellers visiting the Mainland or other affected areas must avoid poultry contact and visiting wet markets, live poultry markets or farms. The public should stay alert to possible backyard poultry when visiting relatives and friends, avoid purchasing live or freshly slaughtered poultry, and avoid touching poultry or birds or their droppings. They should strictly observe personal and hand hygiene when visiting any place with live poultry," the spokesman advised.
Travel-related diseases

     Dengue fever remains endemic in some areas in Asia. Travellers should wear light-coloured long-sleeved clothes and trousers and apply insect repellent containing DEET to clothing or uncovered parts of the body. Travellers returning from areas affected by dengue fever and Zika Virus Infection should apply insect repellent for 14 days or at least 21 days upon arrival, respectively.

     Regarding Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), as countries in the Middle East, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, continue to report cases from time to time, travellers should avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels and avoid contact with sick persons and animals, especially camels, birds or poultry.
Food poisoning

     "In the festive season, food and environmental hygiene are the keys to preventing food poisoning. While some may cook for the Family Reunion Dinner and the New Year Feast, some may choose poon choi takeaway as an alternative. When collecting and transporting poon choi, make sure it is kept at above 60 degrees Celsius. Before consuming poon choi, it should be reheated thoroughly till the core temperature reaches at least 75 degrees C," the spokesman said. More information on the healthy tips for enjoying poon choi can be found on the CHP website.
     When consuming party food or hot pot in gatherings, the public should consume thoroughly washed and cooked food. For shellfish, the shells should be well scrubbed and the internal organs removed before consumption. Never use raw eggs as a dipping sauce. Use different chopsticks to handle raw and cooked food to avoid cross-contamination. For more food safety tips, please visit the webpage of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department's Centre for Food Safety.

     The public may also visit the CHP's pages on seasonal influenza, scarlet feveravian influenzadengue fever, ZikaMERS and food poisoning for more information.
Ends/Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Issued at HKT 16:47
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