HK runs low on drug amid new flu outbreak

Medical facilities in Hong Kong are running low on a major medicine used to fight a flu outbreak in the city, and further supplies may not be available for a week, doctors have said.

Hospitals are also facing a shortage of beds as Hong Kong grapples with a new strain of flu, reports said.

The H3N2 outbreak started on Jan 2, and has led to the hospitalisation of some 218 patients thus far, out of whom 142 have died as of yesterday, the South China Morning Post reported.

Health authorities had, last week, said that the situation is under control, with no big clusters of outbreak of the current strain.

But, as the city battles an unusually high number of seasonal influenza cases, Doctors Union president Henry Yeung Chiu Fat said some private clinics may not be able to get more of the Tamiflu drug until Sunday.

All public hospitals were ordered to carry out an urgent stocktake of the drug, with the reports to be submitted to the Department of Health.

"There is sufficient stock available and we will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis," a spokesman for Roche, the company that makes Tamiflu, said.

A pharmaceutical company has also verbally agreed to supply H3N2 flu vaccines to Hong Kong by April, Xinhua quoted Health Minister Ko Wing Man as saying.

Hong Kong is particularly sensitive to flu outbreaks, given the density of the city as well as its history as ground zero of the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus in 2003.

As many as 500 to 1,000 people succumb to complications every year, even as flu viruses constantly mutate to produce new strains, which in turn require new vaccines to control.

Meanwhile, Seamus Siu Yuk Leung of the Frontline Doctor's Union criticised Hong Kong's Hospital Authority for negligence in efforts to contain the epidemic.

He said doctors were under "immense pressure", working 24-hour shifts to meet the patients' demands, and some doctors are reluctant to show up for work in fear of getting infected.

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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