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Suspected poisoning due to tropane alkaloids tainted Chinese medicinal herb

     The Department of Health (DH) today (June 18) advised that patrons of a Chinese medicine practitioner (CMP), Yiu Shut-kwai, on Fuk Wa Street of Sham Shui Po, should check to see if they have been prescribed the Chinese medicinal herb Rhizoma Atractylodis since May 23. If so, they must not consume it as it is found contaminated.

     Clinic records show that some 150 clients are likely involved and the practitioner has begun contacting them under DH's supervision.

     A spokesman for DH explained that the finding is made after the Department investigates into a notification from the Hospital Authority of a suspected case of Chinese herbal medicine poisoning.

     The patient was a 50-year-old woman who had taken a self-prepared herbal decoction, with the herbs obtained from the above CMP for easing of her perimenopausal symptoms.

     The woman developed dry mouth and blurred vision, which are symptoms suggestive of anticholinergic poisoning, some half hour after taking the herbal decoction on June 16. She then sought medical treatment from United Christian Hospital on June 17 and was discharged on the same day.

     Given the compatible clinical picture and related history of consuming herbal decoction, DH begins source tracing immediately on receiving the notification, and samples of herbs were obtained from the CMP's clinic.  Risk assessment performed on the CMP's prescription narrowed the focus down to the herb Rhizoma Atractylodis. Urgent analysis by the Government Laboratory on samples of Rhizoma Atractylodis obtained from the clinic confirmed contamination by tropane alkaloids. Meanwhile laboratory test results on the herbal remnants and patient's urine are still pending.

     Further investigations at this stage revealed that the CMP maintained a clean and tidy environment for stocking the herbs, and no further processing of the herbs was conducted at his clinic premises.

     Therefore contamination of herbs with tropane alkaloids would be unlikely to have occurred at the clinic site.  Upstream tracking thus far has revealed that the incriminated batch of Rhizoma Atractylodis, was self-purchased by the CMP directly from Guangzhou Qingping Chinese Herbs Market on May 23. DH has referred the findings to the Mainland's drug authorities for their necessary follow-up. DH has also alerted traders and CMPs to stop using the same batch of Rhizoma Atractylodis from Guangzhou Qingping Chinese Herbs Market.

     DH would continue the epidemiological investigations for the source of contamination, in particular how tropane alkaloids could have tainted the herbs.

     Rhizoma Atractylodis should not contain tropane alkaloids. It is a commonly used herb for the removal of dampness and invigorating the function of spleen.

     "Here, contravention of Section 52(1) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance Cap. 132, selling drug not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser, might have occurred. The maximum penalty involved is $10,000 and three months' imprisonment. DH will refer the incident for the Department of Justice's advice on completion of the investigation," the spokesman said.

     "As the incriminated Rhizoma Atractylodis distributed by the involved CMP are contaminated, any person who has the product in hand ought to surrender it to DH at 16/F, Two Landmark East, Kwun Tong, Kowloon. For patrons who have used the Chinese herb and are not feeling well, they should seek advice from their attending healthcare workers as soon as possible as anticholinergic poisoning can be serious and even fatal," the spokesman remarked.

Ends/Saturday, June 18, 2011
Issued at HKT 21:27


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