Is Hong Kong measles case linked to flight that may have sparked outbreaks in Japan and Taiwan?
Before coming down with measles, expat patient, 46, had been to Thailand, where Taiwanese so-called ‘super spreader’ had also visited ahead of trip to Japan
Health authorities in Hong Kong are trying to determine whether an expatriate man confirmed with measles was infected on a Tigerair flight linked to outbreaks in Japan and Taiwan which have left more than 100 people ill so far.
The 46-year-old expat had been to Thailand – where the “index case” or first patient had also visited – before returning to Hong Kong. He was confirmed with the infectious disease in the city last week. None of his contacts had shown symptoms of the highly contagious viral disease, which had an incubation period of about 10 days.
As of Tuesday, six measles cases were recorded in Hong Kong – three in March and three last month. Among them, two cases were imported from mainland China and Indonesia.
In a bid to stop the outbreaks in Japan and Taiwan, authorities tracing cases found that the so-called super spreader, a Taiwanese man, had travelled to Thailand before being confirmed with measles in Okinawa, where in turn 85 others were infected.
The Taiwanese man infected a Tigerair flight attendant.
In Taiwan, the man triggered “a cluster of another 12 cases”, according to the Hong Kong Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection.
“The cases involved flight contacts and workers of Tigerair Taiwan and other airlines,” the centre said, based on reports from Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control.
There were 24 cases recorded on the island as of Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a regional official of the World Health Organisation said the recent incidents showed that areas that experienced few or no cases of measles still had to maintain high immunisation coverage among the general population and be prepared to respond “rapidly to control outbreaks”.
Dr Jose Hagan, WHO Western Pacific regional focal point for measles and rubella, said Japan had eliminated measles and Taiwan had been free of it for several years through very high rates of vaccination in the population.
“In response to this outbreak, they have both initiated outbreak investigation and response efforts to prevent further spread by identifying and immunising people who may not be immune and who may have been exposed to the virus,” Hagan said.
The Hong Kong Medical Association has asked the government to supply MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) shots to the Department of Health’s Travel Health Service for worried travellers.
Measles was a common childhood infection before the introduction of a vaccine.
Those affected would initially have a fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and white spots inside the mouth. Three to seven days later a red blotchy skin rash would develop, which usually spread from the face to the rest of the body. It could be deadly, especially in small children. In Hong Kong, children are vaccinated at age one and get a second booster dose in Primary One.
The WHO said measles remained “an important cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine”.
The agency had sought to eliminate measles by 2020.