Nowadays, with the improvement in hygiene and advancement of medical technology, citizens of Hong Kong suffer less from infectious diseases compared to the past. However, outbreaks of infectious disease can happen at any time and new infectious agents emerge occasionally.

In Hong Kong, for example, there has been a winter surge of seasonal influenza in 2018-2019. As at late Feb 2019, there were 446 severe cases reported to the Centre of Health Protection. Among these cases, 233 died [1]. Also, there have been 616 community outbreaks in total in kindergartens, schools, elderly homes and residential care homes for the disabled, affecting more than 4,000 people in these communities [1]. Toddlers were especially vulnerable to seasonal influenza – among the community outbreaks, around 70% happened in kindergartens and childcare centers [2]. Classes in affected kindergartens were suspended to halt cross infection [3]. However, the government later announced class suspension for all kindergartens and child care centers in Hong Kong due to the ongoing spread of infection [4].

The most serious outbreak in the past decades was undoubtedly the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, which caused more than 1,500 infected cases and claimed 300 lives [5], including 8 healthcare workers [6]. The World Health Organization once listed Hong Kong as one of the affected areas, which indicated the occurrence of chains of local transmission [7]. Nearly 300 residents in an entire residential building were evacuated and quarantined [8]. At the same time, tourism was curtailed, and tension, worry and grief were widespread in the community. In the 4 months before the pandemic finally ended [6], the city suffered enormous physical, economic and psychological losses.

If an infectious disease outbreak is emerging or has happened, non-urgent medical services and facilities might be affected. Below are some tips to help you prepare for and get through the pandemic [9] [10] [11].

Prepare Now

  • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Have other nonprescription drugs and health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
  • Get vaccinations of respective infectious disease if needed.
  • Get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals and other sources and store them for personal reference.
  • Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.

Survive During

  • Maintain good personal, food and environmental hygiene.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth especially after touching public installations like handrails or doorknobs. If it is necessary to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, wash hands with soap and water or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub before and after.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. This may prevent those around you from getting sick. Dispose the soiled tissues into a lidded rubbish bin then wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Use absorbent disposable towels to wipe away obvious contaminants such as respiratory secretions. Then, disinfect the surface and neighboring areas with 1:49 diluted household bleach, leave for 15 – 30 minutes and then rinse with water and keep dry. For metallic surfaces, disinfect with 70% alcohol.
  • Manage skin abrasions carefully.
  • Do not share towels or other items that may come into contact with the eyes.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Also, when you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick.
  • When experiencing symptoms, wear a surgical mask, refrain from work or school, avoid going to crowded places, maintain good indoor ventilation and seek medical advice promptly.
  • Cook all food, particularly seafood and shellfish, thoroughly before consumption.
  • Practice other habits that are good for your health such as maintaining a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing your stress and avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • If you are traveling and feeling unwell when outside of Hong Kong, wear a surgical mask especially if having a fever or cough. Inform the hotel staff or tour leader and seek medical advice at once.
  • Travelers returning from affected areas of infectious disease outbreaks should consult doctors promptly if they have respective symptoms, inform the doctor of their travel history and wear a surgical mask to prevent the spread of the disease.