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Public Urged To Check For Respiratory Illness

Anita Lam – SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

Those with a persistent cough and elderly people should be checked for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as hospital admission rates always jump during periods of cold and wet weather, a doctor has warned.

Respiratory medicine expert Roland Leung said many Hongkongers were still unaware of the disease, which the World Health Organisation expected to become the world’s third-biggest killer in the next two decades.

According to Hospital Authority figures, an average of four people died of the disease every day in 2006. Dr Leung said that despite a drop in the number of deaths since then – because of a reduction in the number of smokers – Hong Kong had the second-highest death rate for the disease in East Asia last year, lagging just behind Japan.

“If your coughing lasts for more than three months and you are always short of breath, then you should go for a check-up,” Dr Leung said.

A 2005 study found 100,000 Hongkongers suffering from the disease – some even in the terminal stage – had never sought treatment, as many tended to put it down to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Directly linked to air pollution, Dr Leung said that apart from pneumonia, the disease was the most common cause of hospital admissions in Hong Kong. At worst patients may find themselves unable to carry out even the simplest household tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

Dr Leung said patients should try a new steroid-free medicine called Tiotropium to manage the illness.

A four-year study on the medicine, which helps sufferers breathe more easily, was found to be about 15 per cent more efficient than a traditional inhaler in improving patients’ lives, although its effects declined for long-term users.

Tiotropium has been available in public hospitals for about a year and is also available in local pharmacies with a referral letter from a doctor.

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