Deadly bacteria found in chief executive's office

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2012, 12:00am


The chief executive's office is among several sites at the new HK$5.5 billion Tamar government headquarters where the bacteria that causes legionnaires' disease have been detected, the Centre for Health Protection said last night.

Centre controller Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said samples taken last week found legionella bacteria in the offices of numerous bureau chiefs in the east and west wings of the government headquarters, as well as inside the Legislative Council.

He said final results on the precise levels of the bacteria would not be known for more than a week, but that Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was in good health and no new infections had been reported.

The results were preliminary and Tsang would not say whether bacteria levels had reached danger levels. He said officials would name the affected bureaus today. 'For now, there is no need to bar anyone from returning to their offices. Simple disinfection should do the job.'

According to international standards, anything above 0.1 to 1 cfu/ml (colony-forming units per millilitre) would require disinfection of water sources.

The level of legionella bacteria found in a tap inside education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung's office toilet was up to 14 times more than is considered safe, according to final laboratory results released yesterday. Suen was diagnosed with legionnaires' disease on December 21.

Health protection officials tested water supplies at his home and office. His home was unaffected, but they found legionella species, including the highly risky legionella penumophila serogroup 1, in samples taken from the tap in his private toilet.

On December 29 the officials took samples from the 10th to 15th floors of the building, where pipes are believed to connect to Suen's office, and 31 samples elsewhere in the complex.

Nine samples found to contain the bacteria came from the chief executive's office; the private toilets of several bureau secretaries; a first-floor kitchen in the Legco complex; the canteen on the first floor of the government offices building; and a cafe outside the east wing.

Tsang said technicians would continue to disinfect the Tamar site today, but top officials and their colleagues could continue working in their offices. Since the bacteria existed in water, he said people could either avoid using affected water taps or install extra filters.

Microbiology professor Dr Ho Pak-leung said the detection of the serogroup 1 bacteria was worrying. 'It can lead to serious pneumonia, with a fatality rate of 30 per cent,' he said. The normal fatality rate of pneumonia is around 10 per cent.

However, Tsang said a level of 14-something cfu/ml was not highly dangerous; in some water tanks in old blocks, the levels could run into hundreds of cfu/ml. He suspected the tap in question was seldom used, causing a bacterial concentration.

Suen, 67, was admitted to hospital with pneumonia on December 18 and later diagnosed with legion naires' disease. He was discharged last Thursday and is expected to return to work next Monday.