Healthcare in Hong Kong is excellent by international standards, especially compared to most Asian cities. In fact, the average life expectancy is higher than the United States. However, the city has its fair share of health issues and it is not unusual for newcomers to find themselves falling ill more frequently while acclimatizing to their new environment.
Hong Kong, in spite of its excellent health system periodically faces outbreaks of epidemics and diseases which at times can be life threatening. The most recent such outbreak was in November 2010 when an single case of H5N1 avian influenza ("bird flu") was reported from Hong Kong. The WHO states that most visitors to HK are not threatened by avian influenza since it is transmitted to humans only if the person has had direct contact with infected live poultry or has had intimate contact with family members affected by the disease. The WHO goes on to advice that visitors to Hong Kong should guard against avian flu by avoiding exposure to live poultry including visits to poultry farms and open markets with live birds.
Visitors should also be careful not to touch any surfaces that might be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals; and further should make sure all poultry and egg products are thoroughly cooked. Even though a vaccine for avian flu has been developed, it is still not commercially available and human influenza vaccine is not effective against avian flu. If, however, you do develop symptoms associated with avian influenza you are advised to seek immediate medical help.
An earlier incidence of H5N1 avian influenza ("bird flu") took place in 1997 which saw the disease spread to humans and result in six deaths. The outbreak in 1997 was contained by the mass slaughter of poultry as all the cases had been due to contact with infected poultry.
Perhaps the most notorious epidemic ever associated with Hong Kong was SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. This outbreak occurred in March 2003 and resulted in 296 deaths and 1755 cases. This mysterious virus was linked to the coronavirus and it spread through person to person contact. The virus was brought to Hong Kong by a visitor from mainland China and it soon spread to other foreigners who went on to carry it to other countries.
SARS caused much damage in the HKSAR and resulted in a mass exodus of expats from the territory. During the SARS outbreak hygiene levels improved dramatically in the HKSAR as much of the population resorted to wearing face masks, continuously washing their hands and cleaning their homes with diluted bleach. These changes were brought about by SARS and they continue to be practiced until today.