Hong Kong authorities clear athletes and travellers for Zika after Rio

Hospital Authority says screening process will also help pregnant women to check for the virus

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 8:03am

Nine Hong Kong travellers, including three athletes who developed symptoms of sickness after returning from Rio Olympic, all tested negative of Zika virus, according to the Hospital Authority.

It comes as the city’s public hospitals announced they would provide additional Zika virus screenings for local pregnant women to prevent them from panicking or having unnecessary maternal checkups.

Since last Friday, the additional antibody test has been provided to pregnant women who displayed symptoms of contracting the virus, despite not having any recent travel history.

While the accuracy of the antibody test is low, doctors said it would effectively screen out women who do not require additional scans, Dr Derrick Au Kit-sing, director of quality and safety of Hospital Authority, said.

Hong Kong enters two-week watch for Zika virus

Meanwhile, the third local case of dengue fever was confirmed on Tuesday, causing additional alarm over the risk of Zika, with the same species of mosquito able to spread both diseases.

“The coming two to three months are crucial in observing whether [the two mosquito-borne diseases] will have more cases in Hong Kong,” Au said.

“But I believe the risk for Hong Kong having an outbreak on both Zika and dengue is very low.”

Dengue fever poses less risk to Hong Kong than Zika as it is not a new threat and there has been a history of few cases every summer. No deaths have been recorded in the past few years.

But the fact that all three patients who contracted the disease locally in one month all lived in Central might indicate the disease already existed in the area, Au said.

Zika virus can cause microcephaly, a serious birth defect, which manifests in underdeveloped brains and in the small heads for babies.

“The hospitals will raise the response level from alert to serious once there is a local Zika case,” Dr Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong, chief infection control officer of the authority, said.

Watch Singapore effort to stamp out Zika virus:

When the alert is raised to serious, it would mean that hospitals will designated certain clinics to treat infected patients and the volume of laboratory testing would increase.

Last month, Hong Kong reported its first imported case of Zika.

A 38-year-old expatriate woman who had travelled to the Caribbean recently was found with low levels of the virus in her blood. She was discharged after being hospitalised for two days.

Symptoms of Zika infection include a mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis and muscle and joint pain.

Last Friday on September 2, Hong Kong authorities issued an amber travel alert for Singapore over its Zika virus crisis.

An amber travel alert – the lowest of the three-tier system issued by the Security Bureau – means there are signs of a threat and that travellers should monitor the situation and exercise caution.

Singapore is the only destination for which Hong Kong has issued a travel warning for Zika so far.