Fears of cholera strain epidemic

A SECOND Hong Kong resident is in hospital after bringing a deadly new strain of cholera into the territory.

Health Department principal medical officer Dr Leung Ting-hung said the ethnic Chinese man was found to be infected with Bengal cholera late on Friday after returning from overseas.

''He is a Hong Kong resident who had travelled overseas for about a week on an Asian holiday,'' Dr Leung said.

''Within a few hours of arrival in Hong Kong, he felt sick. He's now in a satisfactory condition.'' International medical bodies have warned the new 0139 strain of cholera, which has killed thousands in India and Bangladesh, could become a world-wide epidemic.

Symptoms include severe diarrhoea, vomiting and rapid dehydration. Untreated, the disease can kill babies within hours and adults within days.

Hong Kong's first case of Bengal cholera, diagnosed late last year, also involved a local resident returning from an Asian holiday.

This week's diagnosis coincides with the release of Health Department figures showing a 10-fold increase in cholera infections last year.

''In 1992 there were three cases; last year there were 30,'' Dr Leung said.

''But if you look at it in terms of the population of Hong Kong, it's not really that high.'' A World Health Organisation report last year described the current rash of infections as the longest-running global cholera epidemic in 200 years.

Dr Leung said Hong Kong authorities had stocked up on new Japanese-developed test kits to pinpoint 0139 cholera infections and planned to convene an inter-departmental strategy meeting this month.