Doctors confident Hong Kong is prepared if Sars strikes again

More respiratory specialists and isolation ward beds mean city can better handle new outbreak

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 5:27am

Hong Kong is prepared to responded to any future Sars outbreak, medical experts said at an event yesterday marking 10 years since the virus struck the city.

They pointed to the greater number of respiratory specialists and isolation wards, and the better understanding of how the disease spreads and thrives.

Dr James Ho Chung-man, president of the g Thoracic Society, said there are about 170 respiratory specialists in the city at present, about double the number when Sars hit in 2003.

Ho said he was confident Hong Kong was ready for another outbreak given the advances the city's medical experts continued to make in learning about severe acute respiratory syndrome - a form of atypical pneumonia caused by a type of coronavirus - and Sars-like diseases.

Dr Thomas Mok Yun-wing, chairman of the Lung Foundation, said there were not many isolation wards with specialised air-pressure systems in 2003. But there were now more than 1,400 beds in such wards, Mok said. "If an epidemic comes again … most of the patients can be isolated and the chance of an outbreak inside a hospital can be lowered significantly," he said.

The specialised systems help prevent cross-contamination across rooms through the use of a ventilation system that generates negative room pressure, forcing air to flow in but not out.

Dr Johnny Chan Wai-man, president of the American College of Chest Physicians for Hong Kong and Macau, said the public needed to be vigilant about pneumonia. It was the most deadly respiratory disease in the city, claiming seven lives a day, Chan said.

Meanwhile, an additional patient at Pok Oi Hospital tested positive for human metapneumovirus, a respiratory viral pathogen that causes various illnesses including severe bronchiolitis. The 69-year-old man was being kept in isolation and was in stable condition.

This came after three other patients at the same hospital tested positive for the virus on Saturday.