Deadly levels of killer bug found in 15 buildings

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am


Dangerous levels of legionnaires' disease were found in more than three per cent of the buildings inspected in the last eight months, according to government data.

Traces of the potentially deadly Legionella pneumophila bacteria, which cause the disease, were recently found in the new HK$5.5 billion government headquarters at Tamar days after education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung was diagnosed with the illness.

The bacteria was found in four samples taken from a tap in Suen's private bathroom at Tamar.

Health department officials collected another 31 water samples from the complex yesterday, including three from the chief executive's office. The results are expected in a few days.

Fifteen of the 464 buildings inspected citywide in the last eight months uncovered traces of the disease above the safe level of 1,000 bacteria per millilitre, data from the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department shows.

The affected buildings are in areas including Kwun Tong, Causeway Bay, Sai Kung, Wong Tai Sin and Tuen Mun. Six of the buildings in Kwun Tong are old and due for demolition.

The samples were taken from the buildings' fresh water cooling towers.

Sterilisation procedures have been completed in all but one of the buildings.

According to the data, 219 other samples contained the bacteria, but were not above the danger level.

Microbiology professor Ho Pak-leung said there were two ways to kill the bacteria inside the pipes. 'One is running the pipes with hot water,' said Ho.

'The other is adding chlorine into the water to kill the bacteria.

'Turning on the water tap and letting the water run for a while every now and then can help to wash the disease away.'

Suen's was the 13th case of legionnaires' disease this year. One patient has died. There were 20 confirmed cases last year and 37 in 2009.

Deaths can occur in 10 to 15 per cent of otherwise healthy individuals who contract the disease.

Bug in the city

2007: 11 cases, 1 death

2008: 13 cases, 2 deaths

2009: 37 cases, 5 deaths

2010: 20 cases, 1 death

2011: 13 cases, 1 death*

Most recent cases

September 16 A 66-year old man from Southern District is admitted to Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam with pneumonia. He has no recent travel history. Cause of infection unknown. He is later discharged.

October 27 A 62-year-old tourist develops a headache and fever while travelling on the mainland. He is admitted to a private hospital in Hong Kong in stable condition and is later discharged.

*As of December 29