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Three patients with respiratory symptoms and travel history test negative for MERS-CoV

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) is today (May 4) investigating a total of three suspected cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) whose respiratory specimens were all negative for MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and called on the public to stay alert and maintain good personal, food and environmental hygiene during travel.

     The latest case was notified by the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) last night involving a man aged 70. The patient, with underlying illnesses, travelled with his wife and friends to Iran from April 12 to 27. The couple then visited Dubai from April 27 to May 2. The patient developed cough with sputum and sore throat during the trip since April 19 and his condition improved after self medication. He had no contact with animals and patients and did not visit healthcare facilities during his trip.

     However, the patient noticed increase in cough and sputum after returning to Hong Kong and was admitted to PMH last night for treatment under isolation. He is currently in stable condition. His nasopharyngeal aspirate and sputum were negative for MERS-CoV upon preliminary laboratory testing by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch (PHLSB). His wife has remained asymptomatic so far.

     The remaining two cases, which were announced yesterday, involved a 35-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman. They were both admitted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital (PYNEH) yesterday for management under isolation in stable condition. Both of their nasopharyngeal aspirate and sputum were negative for MERS-CoV upon PHLSB's preliminary laboratory testing.

     The 35-year-old male patient, with good past health, has presented with fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and muscle pain since May 2. He had travelled to Doha, Qatar for work from April 23 to 25, during which he had no contact with animals or patients and did not visit healthcare facilities there. His home contacts have remained asymptomatic.

     The 32-year-old female patient presented with fever, cough and shortness of breath since April 27. She had joined a cruise tour to Europe and Mediterranean with her family from April 18 to 27. Two flights in her trip transited at Doha where she had no contact with animals or patients.

     "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 healthcare 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 are tested negative for MERS-CoV.

     "MERS is a statutorily notifiable infectious disease and the PHLSB 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. Healthcare workers (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 report their travel history to the doctor. Healthcare workers should arrange MERS-CoV testing for them. Patients' lower respiratory tract specimens should be tested 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 camel markets;
* Avoid contact with animals (especially camels), birds, poultry or sick people during travel;
* Wash hands regularly before and after touching animals in case 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 visit to healthcare 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 latest news of the World Health Organization ( 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/Sunday, May 4, 2014
Issued at HKT 16:33


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