The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today drew the public’s attention to increased activity of norovirus in Hong Kong and overseas and neighboring areas in recent months, and hence reminded travellers during the Lunar New Year to maintain strict personal, hand, food and environmental hygiene.
“Locally, the CHP’s laboratory surveillance has revealed high norovirus activity since the autumn months,” a spokesman for the CHP said.
The norovirus-positive percentage among fecal specimens was 16.57 per cent and 13.70 per cent in November and December 2016 respectively. Among 14 institutional acute gastroenteritis outbreaks affecting 123 persons in the past four weeks as of January 24, 2017, two outbreaks involving 25 persons were norovirus-related.
“Norovirus can be transmitted via contaminated food or water, contact with vomitus or feces or any objects contaminated by the virus. Proper disposal of vomitus and fecal matter and adequate disinfection of the environment are key to preventing and controlling the spread of the disease,” the spokesman said.
The CHP recorded 18 and 23 food poisoning outbreaks affecting 61 and 72 persons respectively in November and December 2016.
“We also noted elevated norovirus activity in Guangdong, Taiwan, Japan and the United Kingdom in recent months. Members of the public should stay alert during travel,” the spokesman said.
The Health and Family Planning Commission of Guangdong Province issued an alert last month that the number of norovirus outbreaks had markedly increased from five in November to 14 last month as of December 26, 2016. Outbreaks mainly occurred in schools and child care centres and cases were mild with no severe cases or deaths.
In Taiwan, according to the Centers for Disease Control, as of January 8, 2017, 13 diarrheal outbreaks (two norovirus-positive) affecting 679 persons were recorded this month, compared to 10 outbreaks (eight norovirus-positive) involving 80 persons in the same period in 2016.
In Japan, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases also reported 128 and 35 norovirus outbreaks in November and December 2016 respectively.
Surveillance of Public Health England showed that there had been 3 049 norovirus detections in the current season, 9 per cent higher than the average in the same period in the last five seasons.
Food-borne diseases, particularly those linked to hot pot, are common in cold weather. During the festive season, the public should:
- Wash hands before handling and consuming food;
- Do not patronize unlicensed vendors or those with poor hygienic standards while selecting food;
- Wash and cook food thoroughly;
- After washing vegetables, soak them in water for one hour to reduce pesticide residues;
- Shrimps should be fully cooked by cooking them until the shells turn red and the flesh turns white and opaque;
- For shellfish like scallops and geoduck, scrub the shells thoroughly and remove internal organs;
- Most hot pot ingredients should be stored in a refrigerator at 4 degrees Celsius or below, while frozen food should be stored in a freezer at -18 degrees C or below;
- Never use raw eggs as a dipping sauce for hot pot; and
- Use different sets of chopsticks to handle raw and cooked food to avoid cross-contamination.