A patient with a highly infectious skin virus went into a surgical ward without isolation measures because of poor staff communication, Queen Elizabeth Hospital said yesterday. The hospital said the patient, suffering from a severe case of shingles, had left the isolation ward in early December. 'The patient was taken to the waiting area of the surgical ward and stayed there for a little bit longer than he should have,' a spokesman said. The hospital did not say how long the patient was in the waiting area. Infectious diseases expert Lo Wing-lok said the incident could have had serious consequences, including fatalities, if the patient had encountered anyone with a weakened immune system. Shingles, also know as herpes zoster, results from a re-emergence of the chicken pox virus, often many years after the original infection. The hospital said 57 patients and 33 medical staff had walked past the patient while he was in the waiting area, but checks of medical records and blood samples indicated none had been infected. 'The chicken pox virus is contagious, but about 90 per cent of the public has an immunity to the virus from already having been infected by it once. The possibility of it spreading is small,' the hospital's spokesman said. The case was reported to the Hospital Authority and the staff involved had been 'counselled and taught'. The hospital had also provided training courses to improve staff communication. Dr Lo said the patient had been in an adult ward and met people with strong immune systems. 'If the patient had been to the children's ward or had passed by some cancer patients, people would probably have fallen ill,' he said. 'In extreme cases, like patients under radiotherapy, they might even have died of the virus if they had been weak enough.' Dr Lo said the patient's shingles had been highly infectious as it was all over the skin - disseminated herpes zoster - and the infection was airborne. 'Disseminated means that the virus has spread to the whole body,' he said. 'The virus is on the patient's skin and even a movement of the patient's clothes or blankets could spread the virus by air.' He said he was worried hospital staff lacked knowledge about infectious diseases and that similar cases would be found at other hospitals. 'If it could occur at a big hospital like Queen Elizabeth Hospital, I believe the risks at the smaller hospitals are much higher.'