Hong Kong health officials raised the pandemic influenza response level from alert to serious today after one of the local hospitals confirmed an H5 infection in a boy from China’s Guandong province.
In a statement, Hong Kong’s centre for Health Protection (CHP) said the 2-year-old boy came down with a fever and runny nose on May 23 in Guangdong, where his parents and grandmother live. On May 26 he came to Hong Kong and was evaluated at a private clinic in Mong Kok.
Guangdong province, in southern China on the South China Sea coast, is about 90 miles from Hong Kong.
The boy had febrile convulsions and on May 28 was taken to the emergency department at Caritas Medical Centre, which admitted him for suspected encephalitis. A CHP spokesman said the boy’s respiratory samples tested positive for H5 influenza and that more tests are underway to further characterise the virus, according to the CHP statement.
The boy is in stable condition, and investigators are exploring how he might have been exposed to the virus. The CHP said the patient’s household contacts are asymptomatic.
The CHP is in close contact with mainland and hospital authorities to monitor the situation, according to the statement.
Health officials have launched a phone hotline to field questions from the public and are advising the public to follow good general health habits, maintain good hygiene, and avoid direct contact with poultry and birds.
In a separate statement, the CHP said that in keeping with the increased alert level, the Hospital Authority has activated its serious response level for public hospitals. The upgraded response level means stricter infection control measures will be enforced in the facilities, and no visitors will be allowed in isolation units unless on compassionate grounds.
The CHP said all acute hospitals will scale back visiting limits to 2 hours a day and 2 people per visit. Convalescent facilities will limit visiting hours to 4 hours per day. At the serious alert level, volunteer services are suspended at hospitals, and hospital and clinic visitors who have respiratory symptoms are advised to wear surgical masks and observe good hand hygiene before entering patient areas.
In December 2011 Hong Kong raised its avian influenza response level from alert to serious after three birds, including a dead chicken from a marketplace, tested positive for H5N1. The virus in the chicken was detected during routine surveillance; the other two findings were in wild birds.
In Hong Kong, the serious response level covers two scenarios: a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in the environment or among poultry, and a human case with no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
The first known outbreak of H5N1 in humans occurred n Hong Kong in 1997, when the disease struck 18 people, killing 6 of them.
Hong Kong’s last human H5N1 case was confirmed in November 2010, according to World Health Organization (WHO) records. The patient was a 59-year-old woman who got sick after travelling to the mainland. Hong Kong has recorded 21 human cases, including the 1997 ones and two that were reported in 2003.