[Source: Centre for Health Protection, Hong Kong PRC SAR, full page: (LINK).]

Case of suspected Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) under CHP investigation

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) is today (May 7) investigating a suspected case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) affecting a woman aged 59.

The patient, with underlyng medical conditions, has presented with double vision since April 29. She was admitted to Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital today and is now in stable condition.

Initial investigations by the CHP revealed that the patient had travelled to Tunisia with her husband from April 26 to May 5, with both flights transited at Dubai. During her trip, she had camel ride on April 28. Her husband has remained asymptomatic.

Her respiratory specimen will be taken for preliminary laboratory testing by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch (PHLSB).

"We strongly advise travel agents organising tours to the Middle East not to arrange camel rides and activities involving camel contact which may increase the risk of infection," a spokesman for the DH remarked.

"As pre-existing major illnesses can increase the likelihood of medical problems, including MERS, during travel, in view of recent pilgrimage activities, pilgrims should consult a healthcare provider before travelling to assess whether it is medically advisable," the spokesman advised.

Locally, the DH's surveillance mechanism with public and private hospitals, practising doctors and at the airport is well in place. Suspected cases identified will be sent to public hospitals for isolation and management until their specimens are tested negative for MERS-CoV.

"MERS is a statutorily notifiable infectious disease and the PHLSB is capable of detecting the virus. No human cases have been recorded so far in Hong Kong," the spokesman stressed.

"The Government will be as transparent as possible in the dissemination of information. Whenever there is a suspected case, particularly involving patients with travel history to the Middle East, the CHP will release information to the public as soon as possible," the spokesman remarked.

Early identification of MERS-CoV is important, but not all cases can be detected in a timely manner, especially mild or atypical cases. Healthcare workers (HCWs) should maintain vigilance and adhere to strict infection control measures while handling suspected or confirmed cases to reduce the risk of transmission to other patients, HCWs or visitors. Regular education should be provided.

Travellers returning from the Middle East who develop respiratory symptoms should wear face masks, seek medical attention and report their travel history to the doctor. Healthcare workers should arrange MERS-CoV testing for them. Patients' lower respiratory tract specimens should be tested when possible and repeat testing should be done when clinical and epidemiological clues strongly suggest MERS.

Travellers are reminded to take heed of personal, food and environmental hygiene:
  • Avoid going to farms, barns or camel markets;
  • Avoid contact with animals (especially camels), birds, poultry or sick people during travel;
  • Wash hands regularly before and after touching animals in case of visits to farms or barns;
  • Do not drink raw milk, or consume food which may be contaminated by animal secretions or products, unless they have been properly cooked, washed or peeled;
  • Seek medical consultation immediately if feeling unwell;
  • Avoid visit to healthcare settings with MERS patients;
  • Wash hands before touching the eyes, nose and mouth, and after sneezing, coughing or cleaning the nose; and
  • Wash hands before eating or handling food, and after using the toilet.

The public may visit the CHP's MERS page (www.chp.gov.hk/en/view_content/26511.html ), the DH's Travel Health Service
(www.travelhealth.gov.hk/english/popup/popup.html ) or the latest news of the World Health Organization (www.who.int/csr/don/archive/disease/coronavirus_infections/en/ ) for more information and health advice.

Tour leaders and tour guides operating overseas tours are advised to refer to the CHP's health advice against MERS (www.chp.gov.hk/en/view_content/26551.html ).