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Update on investigation into heavy metal poisoning with medications prescribed outside Hong Kong

     The Department of Health (DH) today (September 2) reported an update on investigations into cases of heavy metal poisoning after consumption of medications prescribed outside Hong Kong for treatment of chronic skin conditions, and again reminded members of the public to seek formal care from qualified healthcare professionals.

     Subsequent to three cases reported on August 26 and 19 cases on August 28, as of yesterday (September 1), the DH identified 17 additional cases comprising 14 men and three women aged from 26 to 64. They had consulted a man who claimed to be a Chinese medicine practitioner in Changping, Dongguan, Guangdong, for treatment of chronic skin conditions from June 2013 to July 2015. They developed pain, weakness, numbness and a tingling sensation in limbs, weight loss and increase in skin pigmentation after consumption of pills. Seven of them sought medical consultation and none required hospitalisation. All of them are now in stable condition.

     "Subject to patients' consent, they will be referred to the Hong Kong Poison Information Centre of the Hospital Authority or the Prince of Wales Hospital Poison Treatment Centre for clinical assessment and follow-up where appropriate. Investigations including the patients' clinical condition and consumption history are continuing," a spokesman for the DH said.

     Letters have been issued to doctors to alert them to the recent cases. As there may be other patients with skin problems who have consulted healthcare practitioners outside Hong Kong, including the same man who claimed to be a Chinese medicine practitioner in Changping, Dongguan, Guangdong, and who may have been given medications which may cause poisoning, the DH appealed to medical practitioners to look out for travel and medication histories similar to the above in case there are patients with similar symptoms, and to report suspected cases.

     The DH has set up a hotline (2125 1133) for related enquiries. Patients who are in doubt or have similar cases should call the hotline for follow-up. It will operate from 9am to 6pm from today to this Friday (September 4).

     Ingestion of toxic amounts of inorganic arsenic can cause different clinical manifestations including numbness and tingling of the extremities, muscle cramping or even death. Chronic exposure to mercury can cause damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Symptoms of mercury poisoning may include tremors, irritability, insomnia, deterioration of memory, difficulty in concentration, impaired hearing and vision, and change in the ability to taste. In severe cases, renal failure can occur.
     "The public should consult qualified healthcare professionals. When seeking consultation outside Hong Kong, pay special attention to ensure that they are qualified or registered with relevant jurisdictions for practising. In case of medications obtained from suspicious or similar sources as reported above, stop further use of them and promptly seek advice from qualified healthcare professionals if experiencing discomfort after consumption," the spokesman said.

Ends/Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Issued at HKT 17:54


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