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Caution against atropine-tainted Chinese herbal powder (with photo)

     The Department of Health (DH) today (August 8) cautions members of the public not to consume a Chinese herbal powder, Radix Aucklandiae, imported from the Mainland by a local licensed Chinese herbal medicines wholesaler, Hong Kong Premier Concentrated Chinese Herbs Limited (Premier), as it has been found contaminated by atropine.

     The incident first came to light when the Hospital Authority (HA) investigated into the cause of a 28-year-old woman admitted into Kwong Wah Hospital on July 24 because of palpitation, numbness and dizziness.  She developed the symptoms after consuming herbal powder prescribed by Cheung Kwok-ning Chinese Medicine Clinic (the Clinic) at Kwai Chung.

     "The patient made recovery and was discharged home on July 25.  However, HA's laboratory analysis on the herbal powder consumed detected tropane alkaloids, including atropine.  It is understood that HA regards the finding as incidental as it could neither explain the patient's symptoms, nor was it expected from the herbs prescribed.  HA then referred the matter to DH for investigation," a DH spokesman explains.

     DH commenced follow-up immediately, including inspection of the Clinic, check on the prescription, the herbal and proprietary Chinese medicine stock and the dispensing practice.  Samples were also sent to the Government Laboratory for chemical testing.  

     "Result obtained today shows that atropine, but not other types of tropane alkaloids, was detected as contaminants in the Radix Aucklandiae (batch number: BU.201106) powder sample obtained from the Clinic.  It came from the same batch consumed by the victim," the spokesman says.   

     "Radix Aucklandiae is a Chinese herb commonly used for relieving abdominal pain and improving digestion.  It is neither toxic nor known to contain tropane alkaloids including atropine," the spokesman states.
     "Tropane alkaloids cause anticholinergic symptoms like blurred vision, dry mouth, dizziness and confusion. They can lead to death in severe cases," the spokesman continues.

     Premier's sales record shows that the batch of Radix Aucklandiae was already prepacked on arrival.  It was then supplied to various clients without further processing.  
     "Thus, DH considers the chance of local contamination to be minimal," the spokesman comments.  
     As control, DH instructs Premier to cease sale of the suspected batch (batch number: BU.201106) and recall the powder from clients, including some 100 Chinese medicine practitioners (see attached table [Chinese only] and website for up-to-date list).  Premier has also set up a hotline at 2764 2057 to handle related enquiries.

     Meanwhile, DH has instructed the two Chinese medicine practitioners in the Clinic, Cheung Ka-yi and Cheung Kwok-ning to contact patients who have been prescribed with the tainted Radix Aucklandiae for medical surveillance.  So far, neither the Clinic nor DH has received report of adverse incident related to the tainted herbal powder.  

     "We have referred the matter to our Mainland counterpart for upstream tracing there.  According to information in hand, it looks that contravention of section 52 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, Cap 132, Laws of Hong Kong, namely selling any drug not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser, might have occurred here.  The maximum penalty involved is $10,000 and three months' imprisonment.  In any case, we will work with the Department of Justice regarding possible prosecution on completion of our investigation," the spokesman remarks.

     "Clients who have obtained Radix Aucklandiae from the Clinic should stop using it immediately.  They ought to submit it to the Chinese Medicine Division of DH at 16/F, Two Landmark East, 100 How Ming Street, Kwun Tong.  They should also seek advice from healthcare professionals if they feel unwell or are in doubt," the spokesman urges.

Ends/Monday, August 8, 2011
Issued at HKT 21:12


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