Hong Kong has emerged as the city with several global pandemic fears in recent years. It has recently grabbed the headlines for the swine-flu outbreaks. It was given the status of the worst-affected city during the 2003 SARS outbreak.
During the SARS outbreak, the city received an unwelcome distinction of being the home for over one fifth of the world’s SARS cases. But the city was quick to develop as well as implement a very complicated disease control and epidemiology infrastructure.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are facing the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak. And the question arises, has Hong Kong learned lessons from its deadly outbreaks, especially SARS, in the past.
The first case of MERS human infection was reported in September 2012 and since then it has claimed over 100 deaths so far.
Despite the death toll, the MERS outbreak in Saudi Arabia has not been declared a global concern on the scale of SARS, says Marc Sprenger, Director of the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).
“Even though our understanding of MERS is only a slowly evolving one, we can see important differences between it and SARS. Perhaps the most important one is that MERS is spreading much slower than SARS — we have not yet seen sustained human to human transmission. A similarity with SARS is that both SARS and MERS are zoonotic (when the virus can jump from animal to human) viruses. MERS appears to be a zoonotic virus resulting from multiple introductions and re- introductions into the (human) community,” Sprenger said.
The best thing about Hong Kong is that it is not limited to epidemiology and disease control but believes into developing a cure to the problem.
A research team from Hong Kong and China has developed two antibodies, which they claim can be beneficial for the treatment of MERS.
Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a Hong Kong-based member of the research team and an expert in infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong said, “The MERS coronavirus may undergo further genetic changes and one day become as transmissible as the SARS coronavirus. Therefore we must prepare for this scenario before it happens.”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Centre for Public Health has issued a set of guidelines on prevention of the spread of MERS:
- Cover your mouth while coughing or sneezing.
- Used tissues should be disposed off in a close bin.
- Wash hands frequently using soap and water.
- In case of low grade fever, sore throat or running nose or diarrhea, consult doctors.
- Wear a surgical mask to limit the spread of the virus if exhibiting symptoms.
- Contact with livestock, uncooked meat, unwashed fruits and vegetables or unpasteurized milk be avoided.
- Travelers from affected regions should consult doctors and start keeping masks if they develop symptoms up to 14 days.