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DH closely monitors first two MERS cases in Korea

     The Department of Health (DH) is today (May 21) closely monitoring the first two cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) reported by Korea, and hence called on the public to stay alert and maintain good personal, food and environmental hygiene during travel.

     According to the health authority of Korea, the two patients are a couple. The male patient aged 68 visited Bahrain from April 18 to May 3 and returned to Korea via Qatar on May 4. He developed fever and cough on May 11 and was hospitalised on May 12 in stable condition. His wife who did not travel with him but had taken care of him developed mild respiratory symptom and was also laboratory-confirmed.

     "These are the first two MERS cases in Korea, and the third and fourth case in Asia since the first two cases reported in Malaysia and the Philippines respectively," a spokesman for the DH said.

     "MERS cases reported by the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (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 humans, and further human-to-human transmission in hospitals. The healthcare sector and the public should pay special attention.

     "According to the World Health Organization (WHO), among the recently exported cases who reported performing Umrah in KSA, investigation revealed that they had either visited a healthcare facility or had come into contact with camels or raw camel products while in KSA. As Ramadan will begin in mid-June, pilgrims preparing to go to the KSA for Umrah should be vigilant against MERS," the spokesman said.

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the DH is seeking more information on the case 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. 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. 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 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 pages below for more information and health advice:
* The CHP's MERS page (;
* Geographical distribution of MERS cases in the Middle East (;
* The MERS page of the DH's Travel Health Service (;
* The CHP Facebook Page (;
* The CHP YouTube Channel (; and
* The latest news of the World Health Organization (
     Tour leaders and tour guides operating overseas tours are advised to refer to the CHP's health advice on MERS (

Ends/Thursday, May 21, 2015
Issued at HKT 13:22


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