Error that raises concern

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 July, 1999, 12:00am

HEALTH has been a particular preoccupation in Hong Kong in the past 18 months. There have been the worrying episodes such as the outbreaks of bird 'flu and the red tides killing fish in waters round Hong Kong. There have been medical blunders that have hit the headlines. And, at a different level, there has been the Harvard Report and the opening up of a major debate on health care, and its financing, in the SAR in the years to come.

But the story which we report today of the 22-year-old mother and domestic helper who had been bitten by a dog in the Philippines and who died of rabies in Hong Kong after doctors here repeatedly failed to diagnose her condition is a particularly shocking case. Only five days before she died, doctors at the emergency department at Tuen Mun Hospital gave Cristina Solano a tetanus injection and told her to return in a month.

It would have been bad enough if the hospital had been alone in getting the diagnosis wrong. But our inquiries show that two other doctors had previously misdiagnosed Solano's condition and had treated her either for a rash or for a urinary infection.

One doctor thought it was possible that she had rabies, but just gave her an injection for pain relief and antibiotics. The correct diagnosis was only finally delivered three days before she died earlier this month.

Rabies is not a common ailment. it can take a long time to manifest itself, depending on which part of the victim's body is bitten. Still, in this case the young woman was showing some fairly obvious and worrying symptoms. Doctors in Hong Kong may not be familiar with rabies since this was the first fatality here since 1988. There is also no way of knowing whether the young woman's life could have been saved in this case had a correct diagnosis been delivered sooner and the proper remedial action taken immediately.

But, taking all that into account, this is a case which the medical authorities must investigate fully and promptly.

With several doctors having been involved, it raises obvious questions about standards of diagnosis, and of training. It is also a case which one would have hoped would have been picked up earlier by the medical authorities in charge of ensuring that Hong Kong enjoys the highest health standards possible.