New local transmission case looms amid feces red flag

Top News | Jane Cheung 4 Feb 2020

A female patient in Queen Elizabeth Hospital has tested preliminary positive to the Wuhan virus and is suspected to be another case of local transmission as she has not left Hong Kong in the past two weeks, sources said.

She was in critical condition and needed tracheal intubation to maintain her breathing. If confirmed, she would be Hong Kong's 16th case.

At the same time, government laboratories were looking into testing feces to detect the coronavirus as a local expert warned it could be spread through human waste - the same way SARS did.

This came after Macau authorities announced the virus was found in the feces of five out of seven confirmed cases.

Separately, Guangzhou authorities said the virus was found on the door handle of a patient's home, prompting reminders that people should keep their hands clean.

They added that the cleaning of mobile phones, computer keyboards, water taps and other frequently contacted items should be enhanced.

The latest of Hong Kong's 15 confirmed cases was locally transmitted - a 72-year-old mother that contracted the virus from her 39-year-old son who had traveled to Wuhan two weeks ago.

The head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, Chuang Shuk-kwan, yesterday said the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority are studying how fecal tests could diagnose patients with the virus.

"It's not a problem to collect the feces samples or conduct tests on them, but we're studying what kind of results are considered positive," she said.

Chuang urged people to pour water into pipes in toilets and sinks that have a U-shaped water trap since viruses in feces could easily spread to different flats in a building via dry pipes.

She also said people should always close toilet lids before flushing. Chuang said an 80-year-old man - the 14th local case - used the jacuzzi and sauna facilities when he was on a Diamond Princess cruise between January 20 and 25 before he was admitted to hospital.

Chuang said the patient recalled there were not many people sharing the facilities with him but she added authorities will ask other cruise passengers whether they used the facilities in tracing close contacts.

Of the 132 passengers who arrived in the SAR on the cruise ship, the Department of Health has reached 34, who were all healthy.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, more than 100 residents from the same block at Amoy Gardens in Kowloon Bay became sick. Many of them lived on the same-numbered unit on different floors. Authorities later found the virus had spread vertically between units through defective U-shaped pipes.

Infectious disease expert Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong said the discovery of the virus in feces is a red flag as the current rapid tests for the virus only involve samples taken from the respiratory tracts.

"Not only does the virus infect the respiratory tract, but it may also affect the intestines," he pointed out. "If we don't test the feces, we may miss some patients."

Ho said some patients suffer from diarrhea. He also urged people to maintain good toilet courtesies and step up the cleanliness of washrooms.

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