Health alert issued to Americans in China as area grapples with mystery illness

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Commuters wear protection masks in a subway train in Hong Kong on Jan. 7. Hong Kong health chief Sophia Chan said a respiratory illness whose cause remains unknown will be added to an official list of diseases that medical practitioners are required to report to the government.

Commuters wear protection masks in a subway train in Hong Kong on Jan. 7. Hong Kong health chief Sophia Chan said a respiratory illness whose cause remains unknown will be added to an official list of diseases that medical practitioners are required to report to the government.

HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s health chief said Tuesday that a respiratory illness whose cause remains unknown will be added to an official list of diseases that medical practitioners are required to report to the government.

The disease – an unidentified form of viral pneumonia – has sent 59 people to the hospital in the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan in central Hubei province. As of Sunday, seven were in critical condition, while the rest were stable. Municipal authorities ruled out SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that killed 700 people in 2002 and 2003.

In Hong Kong, 15 patients were treated Sunday for symptoms including fever and respiratory infection after visits to Wuhan. It is not clear whether they have the same illness as the Wuhan patients.

The U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan issued a health alert Tuesday for the pneumonia outbreak, warning travelers to Wuhan to avoid animals, as well as animal markets and products. Americans in Wuhan who feel sick should seek medical care immediately but should not travel, the alert says. 

At a news conference, Chinese Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the “severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent” will be added to a list of reportable infectious diseases in Hong Kong’s Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance.

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Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan lays out measures to prevent and control a mysterious, infectious disease.

The regulation enables the government to take stronger measures against the spread of certain diseases, such as tuberculosis and chicken pox. Actions under the ordinance could include enforcing quarantines or limiting the movement of people who are suspected to have infections.

“Under the amendment, medical practitioners will have to report suspected cases as well as carry out appropriate investigations and follow-ups to the Center for Health Protection under the Department of Health,” Chan said.

Contributing: Jay Cannon, USA TODAY

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