Hong Kong’s health authorities have stepped up vigil against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus after a suspected patient passed through the city into mainland China.
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) is trying to trace people who might have come into contact with a South Korean man who traveled to Guangdong province via Hong Kong, Ming Pao Daily reported.
Guangdong authorities have placed the 44-year-old Korean national in isolation at a hospital in Huizhou after he had high fever and showed symptoms of MERS.
The man arrived in Hong Kong from Incheon International Airport on Asiana Airlines flight OZ723 at 1 pm on Tuesday. Two hours later, he boarded a bus and traveled to Huizhou. He was said to be on a business trip for his employer LG Electronics.
It is believed that the man had a fever as high as 38.7 degrees Celsius on Monday itself. Yet, against a doctor’s advice, he left South Korea, where there have been seven confirmed MERS cases as of Thursday.
MERS, regarded as a new type of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), is a viral respiratory illness that is new to humans. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to several countries, including the United States.
Fever, cough and shortness of breath are some of the symptoms that patients display.
CHP director Leung Ting-hung said the suspected Korean patient, who is now in intensive care at Huizhou Municipal Central Hospital, had fever and cough when arriving in Hong Kong, but he did not reveal to health officers his contact history with confirmed MERS patients.
The man’s father and elder sister were said to have contracted the infection earlier.
The Asiana plane by which the Korean man flew into Hong Kong is reported to have carried 158 passengers and 8 crew members. Meanwhile, there were said to be about 10 people on the cross-border bus the man took.
The CHP is now trying to trace all the passengers to conduct health checks.
The agency is urging all the people who might have come into contact with the suspected MERS patient to report voluntarily. If the Korean is confirmed to have contracted MERS, his fellow passengers will all be placed in isolation.
About 30 people who sat near the man on the flight are already said to be undergoing checks and placed in isolation.
Meanwhile, a female nurse who serves at Hong Kong’s Port Health Office and who had come into contact with the Korean man has shown symptoms of cough, nausea and dizziness on Thursday.
The nurse has been admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital and is in stable condition. An initial test on her for the MERS virus proved negative.
CHP’s Leung said the agency is liaising with mainland and Korean authorities, as well as the World Health Organization, to follow-up on the case.
A spokesman for WHO China Office said the MERS virus won’t spread easily among people unless one has close contact with a patient.
The South Korean man has been tested for the virus and the result is expected Friday.
Dr. Ho Pak-Leung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the incident makes it clear that there has been insufficient communication among Asian countries regarding infectious diseases.
If there had been prior notification, the South Korean man could have been intercepted at the border, Ho noted.
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