Doctor Margaret Cheng is on hand to answer your queries on the atypical pneumonia outbreak. If you have any questions for her, please e-mail them to [email protected]. More questions will be answered in tomorrow's City section.

Q Can face masks made of gauze be reused after washing?

A Yes. Wash your face mask separately from other items in hot water with some bleach. But remember, your face mask is only really useful as a means of preventing you from infecting others. The most effective thing you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands as often as possible or wipe them with alcohol wipes. And remember that when your mask is wet it will not filter effectively.

Q Sars is defined by a high fever before the onset of other symptoms. On average, how long does this period of fever last, and if for several days or more, how dangerous is this to babies and very young children?

A I wouldn't say Sars is defined by a high fever before the onset of other symptoms. But a high fever (over 38 degrees Celsius) is indeed the usual first symptom. Some people also get aches and pains at the same time, others a dry cough, some get a sore throat, while a few have reported diarrhoea.

But you are right to be concerned about a high fever in small children and babies because this is a symptom that can cause convulsions in them. If your child has a fever for any reason you need to work to get it down to normal (37 degrees) by sponging the child with tepid water and giving the correct dose (for his weight and age) of paracetemol. Remember a child with fever must never be given aspirin. Any child with a fever should also see a doctor immediately. It is best to see your private doctor because the hospitals are overloaded with cases. I am told some parents are not taking sick children to see their doctors for fear of contracting Sars, but leaving a child untreated and undiagnosed is much more risky than sitting in a doctor's waiting room.


Q Can I spread the virus through my clothing - say for example, hugging my kids after being in the office all day?

A It's theoretically possible that if someone sneezed all over you shortly before you came home and your child put his face to the very spot the person sneezed on, the virus could be transmitted. But we are not talking about something very likely. I would put it in the million-to-one bad luck category. However, if you are fearful - and once you become a parent this is a natural state of mind - remove your outer clothing and put it in the wash before you hug or kiss or play with your kids. But don't let paranoia ruin your family life!

Q I run a small office of 10 people. What should I be doing to protect us all?

A Firstly, calm everyone down. The hysteria levels are probably more damaging than anything else. Secondly, review the cleanliness of your entire work space and ask your usual office cleaners to do a special clean-up with diluted bleach. Discuss infection control, especially the need to wash hands before and after eating, after using the bathroom and before using office equipment, especially shared office equipment. Make sure there is adequate soap and toilet paper in the bathroom. If it is shared, insist building management provides some or provide it yourself as a service (and example) to all. Also provide adequate disposable hand-wipes in your office and encourage your staff to use them.


If staff feel more secure wearing masks, let them, but don't force them to because there is no proof this is protecting healthy people. Anyone who is coughing or sneezing should not come into work, and if they begin coughing or sneezing while at work they should be asked to go home and to see a doctor to make certain they are not developing Sars.

If anyone in your office does develop Sars, all staff need to be screened and the office closed and disinfected. If your business is one that may be run from home, develop a contingency plan that allows you to do this should the infection hit your office.


Q Does the weather contribute to the spread of the virus? Do humidity and rain make it worse?

A Again, until a lot of testing going on now has been analysed we won't know for sure how the weather affects the virus. It appears to be a cold-weather virus, because that is when it turned up, but this sort of question can't be answered accurately without more testing.



One more Hong Kong victim has died and 26 more are infected, bringing the toll to 17 dead and 734 infected.

The latest fatality is 56-year-old paediatrician James Lau, the first Hong Kong doctor to die

All schools and kindergartens are to remain closed until April 21.


Universities are to remain closed until April 13.