DH closely monitors five additional MERS cases in Saudi Arabia

     The Department of Health (DH) is today (May 18) closely monitoring five additional cases, including one death, of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and hence called on the public to stay alert and maintain good personal, food and environmental hygiene during travel.

     "MERS cases reported by the Middle East, the KSA in particular, increased in the first quarter of 2015, most likely due to increased transmission from a primary animal source, such as camels or camel products, to human and further human-to-human transmission in hospitals. Cases exported to other areas by travellers, migrant workers or pilgrims are likely. The health-care sector and the public should pay special attention. As Ramadan will begin in mid-June, pilgrims preparing to go to the KSA for Umrah should be vigilant against MERS," a spokesman for the DH said.

     According to the WHO, the cases comprise five males aged from 39 to 75 (median age: 48), including a man aged 61 who lived in an area with camels and sheep and died. Among them, one had frequent contact with camels and consumption of raw camel milk, while another is a contact of a previously confirmed patient.

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

     "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. Travellers should avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels, and avoid contact with animals, especially camels, birds, poultry or sick people during travel," the spokesman said.

     "Scientific studies support the premise that camels serve as the primary source of MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infecting humans. A study further suggested that human MERS-CoV infections could be transmitted through close contact with infected camels," the spokesman added.

     Locally, the DH's surveillance mechanism with public and private hospitals, with practising doctors and at boundary control points is firmly 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 said.

     "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 added.

     Early identification of MERS-CoV is important, but not all cases can be detected in a timely manner, especially mild or atypical cases. Health-care 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. HCWs should arrange MERS-CoV testing for them. Patients' lower respiratory tract specimens should be tested when possible and repeat testing should be undertaken 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 case of visits to farms or barns;
* Do not consume raw or undercooked animal products, including milk and meat, or foods which may be contaminated by animal secretions, excretions (such as urine) 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 pages below for more information and health advice:

* The CHP's MERS page (www.chp.gov.hk/en/view_content/26511.html);
* The MERS page of the DH's Travel Health Service (www.travelhealth.gov.hk/english/popup/popup.html);
* The CHP Facebook Page (www.fb.com/CentreforHealthProtection);
* The CHP YouTube Channel (www.youtube.com/c/ChpGovHkChannel); and
* The WHO's latest news (www.who.int/csr/don/archive/disease/coronavirus_infections/en).

     Tour leaders and tour guides operating overseas tours are advised to refer to the CHP's health advice on MERS (www.chp.gov.hk/en/view_content/26551.html).

Ends/Monday, May 18, 2015
Issued at HKT 11:22