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

     The Department of Health (DH) today (September 9) reported an update on investigations into cases of heavy metal poisoning after consumption of medications provided 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 39 cases reported on August 26, August 28 and September 2, as of yesterday (September 8), the DH had identified three additional cases comprising three men aged 44 to 54. The three patients had consulted a man called "Shen Hong" (transliteration) who claimed to be a Chinese medicine practitioner in Changping, Dongguan, Guangdong, for treatment of chronic skin conditions from August 2012 to August 2015. They developed pain, weakness, numbness and tingling sensation in limbs as well as weight loss and increase in skin pigmentation after consumption of pills. None of them sought medical consultation. All of the patients are now in stable condition.

     "According to the information of the Mainland regulatory authority, "Shen Hong" is not a registered Chinese medicine practitioner in Guangdong Province. The DH has passed the relevant information to the authority for its investigation," a spokesman for the DH said.

     "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," the spokesman added.

     As there may be other patients with skin problems who have sought medical advice outside Hong Kong 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.

     As of yesterday, the DH's hotline (2125 1133) had received 24 related enquiries. Patients who are in doubt or have similar cases should call the hotline for follow-up.

     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 the 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 9, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:19