Hong Kong has identified its first case of monkeypox after a resident returning from overseas was confirmed as being infected. Health officials said the risk of local transmission was “very low” as the patient had reported feeling unwell while in hotel quarantine.

Monkeypox virus. File photo: US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, via Wikicommons.

Speaking during the daily Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the Communicable Disease Branch at the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), said a 30-year-old male resident had tested positive for monkeypox.

The patient arrived in Hong Kong on Monday from the Philippines, where he had spent four days. He was in the US between August 3 and 25, and then stayed in Canada from August 25 until last Friday. Based on his symptoms, the incubation period of the virus and the patient’s history of “high risk activities,” Chuang said they suspected that he might have been infected in the US.

Chuang said the patient started developing rashes on his body last Tuesday. Last Friday, his lymph nodes started to swell before he developed a sore throat and difficulties swallowing on Monday, when he was sent directly from his designated quarantine hotel to Queen Mary Hospital.

The health official added that authorities had not identified any close contacts of the patient.

Meanwhile, she urged passengers and crew members who were on the same plane with the patient, as well as people who had been in contact him at the airport or the quarantine hotel, to pay attention to their health. If they felt unwell, Chuang said they should report to the CHP and consult a doctor.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the Centre for Health Protection’s Communicable Disease Branch. Photo: Screenshot, via RTHK.

“Because it is the first case, we hope to be more prudent,” Chuang said, adding, “in fact the risks of transmission is very low.”

The Hospital Authority’s Chief Manager (Integrated Clinical Services) Larry Lee told reporters at the same meeting that relevant medication was already in stock at public hospitals.

Lee added that the monkeypox patient was in a stable condition and there had not been any need for special medication.

Monkeypox

A viral disease that is endemic in West and Central African countries, Monkeypox has spread globally since the first case of the outbreak was identified in the UK in May. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 53,000 cases identified this year in more than 100 countries, as well as a handful of deaths.

Symptoms include a rash – often near the genitals – fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, muscle aches and a sore throat, which develop within three weeks of exposure to the virus. The illness generally lasts for two to four weeks.

The virus is transmitted by being in close, personal contact with someone who has monkeypox. Globally, men who have sex with men make up the majority of cases in the current outbreak.

Existing vaccines and treatments, including antiviral drugs and the smallpox jab, can be used to treat and prevent the illness, though it is usually mild and patients recover without treatment.

Government plans

The Controller of the CHP, Edwin Tsui, said during the same briefing that the most important thing to do at this stage was to monitor if there are any more imported monkeypox cases and to intercept their spread as soon as possible.

But the health official admitted that it would be difficult to screen out monkeypox patients at the airport and authorities must rely on the public to report their own infections.

Tsui said any if close contacts of monkeypox patients were identified, they would be placed in quarantine for 21 days as that is the typical incubation period for monkeypox infections.

Edwin Tsui, the controller of the Centre for Health Protection. File photo: Screenshot, via RTHK.

In addition, he said monkeypox vaccines bought by the government were expected to arrive in September. Authorities will prioritise offering these jabs to people who have been in close contact with monkeypox patients.

“The method of transmission of monkeypox is quite different from Covid-19,” Tsui said. “The spread of monkeypox requires very close contact – to the degree of sexual contact or skin contact – or contact over a very long period of time.”

‘No need to overly panic’

DAB, the city’s largest pro-Beijing party said in a press release on Tuesday evening that it was worried about whether there were adequate medical resources for Hong Kong to cope with a simultaneous outbreak of Covid-19 and monkeypox.

The DAB said it understood that the public was concerned, but said “there is no need to be overly panicked at the moment.”

They urged the government to clearly explain how it would distribute its resources if there were to be an outbreak of monkeypox in Hong Kong and lay out its plans to prevent local transmission of the disease.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.