HK seeks genetic info on Wuhan virus to develop quick test

January 10, 2020 12:11
According to HKU microbiologist Yuen Kwok-hung (first, from right), a test on coronavirus now takes six to eight hours, but with additional information from the mainland, the length can be shortened to two to three hours. Photo: HKEJ

As Wuhan-linked pneumonia cases continue to rise, Hong Kong authorities have sought genetic information from mainland China on the unknown virus behind the infections, hoping to use the knowledge to develop a quick test for detection and diagnosis on potential victims. 

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health on Thursday received notification from China's National Health Commission (NHC) on the progress in relation to identification of the pathogen behind the cluster of pneumonia cases reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

According to information from the NHC, an expert group on the mainland has preliminarily determined that the pathogen of the cluster of viral pneumonia cases occurring in Wuhan is a kind of novel coronavirus.

A mainland laboratory has obtained the whole genome sequence of the virus and has also found a way to test it, according to the CHP.

CHP controller Dr. Wong Ka-hing said the Hong Kong government had reached out to the NHC and asked whether they can give the genetic sequencing of the novel coronavirus, which can help in developing quick tests for the virus.

The CHP was yet to obtain such information as of Thursday night, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Congratulating the mainland experts on their accomplishments in such a short period of time, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said once the complete genetic sequence is obtained, Hong Kong can develop a fast test within several days.

Yuen pointed out that even without the genetic sequence, Hong Kong can still come up with ways to test the virus by using samples of hundreds of coronavirus contained in the HKU database, except that such approach would take longer time.

According to Yuen, currently a test on coronavirus takes six to eight hours, but with additional information from the mainland, the length can be shortened to two to three hours.

By fast testing, the risk faced by a patient can be significantly lowered, Yuen said

The microbiologist stressed that tests conducted in Hong Kong are reliable and that healthcare staff and citizens should cooperate to identify potential victims of Wuhan-linked pneumonia as soon as possible and make them undergo a test.

Meanwhile, the CHP reported 10 more suspicious pneumonia cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 48 as of noon that day.

Among the newly added cases was one involving a 11-month-old baby girl, and another pertaining to a one-year-old baby boy, according to the agency.

According to the Hospital Authority (HA), as of Thursday noon, public hospitals had admitted 10 patients in the past 24 hours who had been to Wuhan in the past 14 days and shown fever, respiratory infection or pneumonia symptoms.

The patients concerned had not visited wet markets in Wuhan before the onset of symptoms.

Including the above-mentioned cases, the HA has reported a total of 48 patients since Dec. 31 last year.

Of those patients, 25 have been discharged. The others still in hospitals are in stable condition.

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