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DH closely monitors additional MERS case in United States

     The Department of Health (DH) is today (May 13) closely monitoring an additional case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) confirmed in the United States (US), and hence called on the public to stay alert and maintain good personal, food and environmental hygiene during travel.

     According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Public Health England, the patient is a health-care worker (HCW) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The patient travelled on May 1 from Jeddah, the KSA, to London, the United Kingdom, by Saudi Arabian Airlines flight 113 (SV 113) during which the patient became ill, then transferred at Heathrow Airport for onward travel to Boston, Atlanta and Orlando, the US, by plane. The patient continued to have symptoms including fever, chills and slight cough on subsequent flights.

     On May 9, the patient attended hospital in Florida and was hospitalised under isolation in good condition. The case was later laboratory confirmed. Tracing of contacts including passengers on the same flights with the patient is ongoing.

     This is the second imported MERS case in the US.

     Excluding the above case, to date, 496 MERS cases have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) globally.

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the DH is seeking more information on the case from the WHO and relevant health authorities. The CHP will remain vigilant and work closely with the WHO and overseas and neighbouring health authorities to monitor the latest developments.

     "The Port Health Office has issued a letter to the travel industry to update them on the latest studies of the KSA that MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was present in the respiratory tract of camels. The KSA authority urged those dealing with camels to be cautious and exercise preventive measures. 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 health-care 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 test negative for MERS-CoV.

     "MERS is a statutorily notifiable infectious disease and the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch 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. 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 reveal their travel history. MERS-CoV should be tested for. Patients' lower respiratory tract specimens should also be diagnosed 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 markets with camels;
* Avoid contact with animals (especially camels), birds, poultry or sick people during travel;
* Wash hands regularly before and after touching animals in cases 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 visits to health-care 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 (, the DH's Travel Health Service ( or the WHO's latest news ( 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 (

Ends/Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Issued at HKT 16:51


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