Plague treatment plans put in place

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 1994, 12:00am

YAN Chai Hospital is setting up an emergency team of medical staff ready to treat any plague sufferers who enter the territory.

Department of Health officers yesterday boarded three aircraft on arrival from India - via carriers Air France, Air India and Swissair - and checked 600 passengers for symptoms of the bubonic or more virulent pneumonic plague that has infected hundreds of people in India in the past week and killed about 50.

No symptoms were observed.

'So far, so good,' a Health Department spokesman said.

An Indian Consulate counsellor, Parbati Sen Vyas, warned against overzealous checking.

'We want officials to bear in mind that every traveller from India is not a plague carrier,' she said.

A Hospital Authority representative said anyone suffering plague symptoms would be sent immediately to the infectious diseases unit at Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan.

Dr Tsang Chin-wah, the chief executive of Princess Margaret Hospital - under whose jurisdiction Yan Chai comes - said he would call together a pneumonic plague strategy panel of medical staff, including doctors, nurses and departmental administrators, to plan their actions should a patient need treatment.

'Most of the doctors have never treated a plague patient before,' Dr Tsang said. The last known case in Hong Kong was in 1929.

But treatment was quite straightforward once the disease had been diagnosed, he said. A seven-day course of the common antibiotic tetracycline usually was enough, but could be prolonged if necessary.

Patients would be kept in isolation, he said.

The difficult part was the diagnosis, he said, since the symptoms - fever, chills, coughing and shortness of breath - could be due to several diseases.

'It's not like a simple cold, but at the start you need laboratory examination that this is the [culprit] bacteria,' he said.

And he warned that the bacterium causing the disease, yersinia pestis, was the same for both bubonic and pneumonic plague and one could lead to the other.

Bubonic plague, passed to humans by bites from rat fleas, infected the blood and mainly showed itself as fever and painful lumps in the lymph nodes where fluid accumulated. In pneumonic plague, the bacteria passed from person to person and infected the lungs first, causing coughing and quickly leading to pneumonia.