Bacterial Diseases

Common bug caused boy's post-flight death

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am

The death of a Hong Kong boy in Kuala Lumpur who had left a Cathay Pacific flight sick was caused by group A streptococcal infection, a common human bug.

Malaysian health authorities yesterday announced their post-mortem findings via the Hong Kong government, saying there was no risk of infection to other passengers on the boy's flight, CX270 on January 31.

The cause of death of the six-year-old was certified as septicaemic shock caused by group A streptococcal infection.

The bug causes skin and soft tissue infection, sore throat and other forms of sepsis. Septicaemic shock is one of the rare and severe complications of streptococcal infection.

The Centre for Health Protection said it had contacted nine travel companions who had close contact with the child and put them under medical surveillance, but none had symptoms of infection.

The boy was returning to Hong Kong from the Malaysian resort of Penang after spending the Lunar New Year holiday with his parents and six relatives. Shortly after the flight took off at 7.45am, he developed rashes on his body and a swollen left leg. When the plane stopped at Kuala Lumpur, his mother took the boy to an airport clinic. His father and other family members continued on to Hong Kong, but the boy had died before they landed at 1.35pm.

Dermatologist Louis Shih Tai-cho said group A streptococcus was a common agent with a relatively low risk of contagion. 'It may be found in people with sore throats,' Dr Shih said. 'If identified early, it can be effectively treated with antibiotics.'

He said the bug posed a low risk to normal, healthy people.

The Centre for Health Protection said the bug was spread through large respired droplets or direct contact with an infected patient.

A spokeswoman for Cathay Pacific said the airline followed proper procedures after learning about the boy's symptoms. She said the airline had not received an infectious-disease alert from the airport clinic.

Centre for Health Protection and Education Bureau staff visited the boy's school yesterday but found no unusual illnesses among pupils.

The boy was treated in Hong Kong for a fever three days before his trip to Malaysia on January 25. He was well on arrival but began to develop a rash on January 28.

On January 29, while in Penang, the boy suffered pain in his left knee believed to be the result of a fall in Kuala Lumpur. His mother organised treatment from a private practitioner, who did not suspect a communicable disease.