Friday, May 29, 2015

MERS: Hong Kong Updates Their Contact Tracing Efforts

Credit HK Gov


Having dealt with 13 imported cases of H7N9 over the past couple of years - and the required contact tracing, testing, and quarantining of exposed individuals that goes along with that - Hong Kong is already well practiced to handle their current MERS crisis.

As we've seen previously, they even keep a Holiday Camp - with a capacity of 280 people - on standby for use as a temporary quarantine facility.  

We've an update on their contact tracing efforts - which are still in progress - indicating that they've already located 12 of 29 close contacts of the Korean businessman who passed through Hong Kong 3 days ago while symptomatic with MERS.

There are, however, a number of people who may have been exposed who are no longer within Hong Kong's jurisdiction.   The government is urging those who were on the same flight, or bus, as the infected traveler to come forward.

MERS contacts being traced

May 29, 2015

The Centre for Health Protection is tracing people who may have come into contact with a Korean man infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus.

The centre's Controller Dr Leung Ting-hung told a press briefing this evening that 158 passengers were on board Asiana Airlines flight OZ 723 on May 26. Among them, 80 were in the same cabin, including 29 who were sitting within two rows of the MERS patient.

Dr Leung said that among the 29 people who came into close contact with the man, 12 have been traced - three are Korean and nine are Chinese. They are being sent to a quarantine camp later today for a two week observation period. About 10 people have left Hong Kong.

The centre will start medical surveillance for others who were on the same flight and buses as the patient. He had travelled from Hong Kong International Airport to Huizhou in Guangdong on two buses operated by Eternal East Cross-Border Coach with number plates PJ 2595 and HN 5211.

The centre also discovered that three passengers from the PJ 2595 cross-border bus had transferred to a seven-seater vehicle in Sha Tau Kok.

The Government urged passengers who were on the same flight or bus as the man to come forward for medical assessment.

Anyone who may have had contact with the MERS patient should call the hotline at 2125 1111, which will be open until 9pm today.

The centre has issued letters to doctors and hospitals to alert them to the latest situation and urges the public and healthcare sector to heighten vigilance against the disease.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably by the public (and sometimes the media), the CDC defines the difference between quarantine and isolation this way:

  • Isolation applies to persons who are known to be ill with a contagious disease.
  • Quarantine applies to those who have been exposed to a contagious disease but who may or may not become ill.

In 2013 I wrote about the successful use of both quarantine and isolation in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Canada in controlling the 2003 SARS outbreak (see EID Journal: A Brief History Of Quarantine.)

While unlikely to be popular among those caught up in one - particularly early in an outbreak - quarantines may be one of the most effective tools that public health officials have in their arsenal.

 That said, the value of quarantines tends to diminish quickly as the number of cases, and geographic spread of a disease, increases.

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