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HK Magazine Archive

After Zika Spikes to 9 Cases on Mainland, Hong Kong Prepares for Virus

The Hospital Authority is closely collaborating with public health services to ensure management guidelines and blood safety.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2016, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:58pm

With the ninth imported case of the Zika virus on the mainland announced yesterday, the threat of the mosquito-borne disease reaching Hong Kong looms closer.

A 23-year-old man who visited Venezuela and returned to his hometown in bordering Guangdong province on February 19 developed a skin rash a week later; when he sought medical advice he was confirmed to be carrying the Zika virus. He is now isolated at a hospital in Guangdong’s Enping city, and in a stable condition. He did not pass through Hong Kong.

Though authorities claim China is one of seven listed countries to see imported cases of Zika with “no possibility of ongoing transmission,” Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority has been working closely with the Department of Health in preparing the local public health sector against the virus.

Dr. Liu Shao-haei, Chief Manager (Infection, Emergency & Contingency) of the Hospital Authority tells HK Magazine that frontline healthcare staff have all been informed of the infectious disease, and the reporting system and management guidelines have been updated to facilitate the timely reporting and early arrangement of clinical tests.

“Patients with clinical symptoms and travel to an affected area within two weeks will be arranged to receive laboratory tests of Zika Virus Disease and Dengue Fever... to ensure the early confirmation of the suspected case,” says Liu.

Hospitals have been reminded to manage pregnant patients with a travel history to affected areas according to new interim guidelines. Also, the Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service has adopted new screening guidelines for blood donors who have resided in or visited countries affected by the Zika virus, within at least 28 days from the date of departure from the affected country.

While considered to be an asymptomatic disease, some common symptoms of Zika infection including mild headache, a blotchy red skin rash, fever, malaise, conjunctivitis and joint pains, lasting two to seven days. It requires no specific treatment aside from rest and getting plenty of fluids.

“The tricky part is that 80 percent of Zika patients show no symptoms, and Aedes mosquitoes that spread Zika are very common in Hong Kong.” —Dr. Leung Ting-hung

However, the World Health Organization has listed Zika as an international public health emergency because iit has been linked to a rising number of babies born with microcephaly, abnormally small heads,  in Brazil. There, mothers had been infected with Zika in the early months of their pregnancies. There is no vaccine available, and scientists say it may take several years before one is completed.

The virus is most commonly spread by the Aedes mosquito, the same mosquito that transmits dengue and yellow fever, which is also found in Hong Kong. “The tricky part is that 80 percent of Zika patients show no symptoms, and Aedes mosquitoes that spread Zika are very common in Hong Kong,” says the controller of the Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection, Dr. Leung Ting-hung.

Aside from spreading through blood transfusion, Zika has also been found in semen and is confirmed to spread through sexual contact. The Centre for Health Protection warns people returning from areas where Zika transmission is common to refrain from having sex with their partners, especially if pregnant, or to use condoms for up to six months after return.

The Centre for Health Protection’s Scientific Committee on Vector-borne Diseases recommends first and foremost that anti-mosquito precautions are conducted through the year. This includes the clearing of all stagnant water to prevent mosquitos from breeding, as well as wearing light clothing and using DEET-containing insect repellent. Pregnant women and those preparing for pregnancy should consider deferring travel to affected areas until after pregnancy.

Of the nine confirmed imported cases on the mainland, four men had passed through Hong Kong, and five out of nine lived in or visited Venezuela, an area seeing increasing transmission.

Other confirmed cases of Zika in China include a 42-year-old woman in Zhejiang province who worked in Suriname in South America, and a father and son, together with another man, who were on the same group visit to Fiji and Samoa, as well as an eight-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother who arrived in Guangzhou from Venezuela last week.

Ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, the Centre for Health Protection will prepare Hong Kong’s athletes competing in the games through special briefings. The center has also proposed a three-level response system, similar to that for MERS and Ebola, to contain any potential outbreak.