Updated 7/4/03: FAQs on Atypical Pneumonia

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    Join Date
    Dec 2002

    Updated 7/4/03: FAQs on Atypical Pneumonia

    Atypical Pneumonia - Frequently Asked Questions

    The illness

    1. What is severe acute respiratory syndrome (atypical pneumonia)?
    The illness is an acute respiratory infection that has recently been reported in a number of regions, including Hong Kong. It is a form of atypical pneumonia caused by a new agent.

    2. What causes severe acute respiratory syndrome?
    Latest research by the University of Hong Kong suggests that a coronavirus is the primary cause of the disease.

    3. Is the disease fatal?
    In most cases no. With early detection and treatment there is a high chance of recovery. Severe cases are usually seen in patients with pre-existing health problems or who seek treatment at a late stage.

    4. What is the incubation period of the disease?
    The incubation period is typically 2 - 7 days.

    5. What are the symptoms of the disease?
    The main symptoms include fever (of 38 degrees Celsius or above), malaise, chills, headache and body ache. Chest X-rays show changes compatible with pneumonia. Other symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing.

    6. If I think I have the disease, should I go to a Hospital Accident and Emergency Department immediately?
    Yes, you should visit the hospital or seek early medical advice from your family doctor if you suspect you are displaying symptoms of the disease.

    7. Is there a test for the disease?
    A chest X-ray will help confirm the diagnosis. A rapid test has been developed to detect the coronavirus in patients.

    8. Is there any treatment available?
    Yes, experience in Hong Kong shows that patients react favourably to ribavirin (a broad spectrum antiviral drug) and steroid treatment. Other treatment methods are also being developed and tested.

    9. What is the difference between classical/typical pneumonia and atypical pneumonia?
    Classical/typical pneumonia is mainly caused by bacteria such as streptococcus.
    Atypical pneumonia is mainly caused by viruses such as influenza and adenovirus, bacteria such as chlamydia and mycoplasma, and other unknown agents.

    10. What is the difference between influenza and atypical pneumonia?
    Influenza symptoms such as fever, cough and headache usually subside within a few days without any serious complications or signs of pneumonia.


    11. How is severe acute respiratory syndrome transmitted?
    Transmission is by respiratory droplets and direct contact with a patient's secretions.

    12. Is there any evidence to suggest air-borne transmission?
    Based on available information, and the results of scientific analysis, transmission is most consistent with droplets and direct contact with a patient's secretions.

    13. Is it safe to use public swimming pools?
    There is no evidence of transmission through swimming. As a precautionary measure, public pools are closed until April 6. In any case, people feeling unwell should not go swimming.

    14. Can the disease be contracted by handling money?
    There is no evidence of transmission through handling money. However, people should pay careful attention to their personal hygiene and wash hands frequently.


    15. Is there a vaccine against the disease?
    A vaccine is not yet available.

    16. What steps can be taken to help prevent contracting the disease?

    Maintain good personal hygiene: cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and wash hands immediately afterwards with liquid soap.

    Use a disposable towel or a hand dryer to dry hands.
    Develop a healthy lifestyle - proper diet, regular exercise, adequate rest and do not smoke.

    Ensure good ventilation at home and in the office.

    People with respiratory tract infections, or those caring for them, should wear a face mask.

    Consult your doctor promptly if you develop symptoms of a respiratory infection.

    17. How can I avoid contracting the disease in an office setting?
    If feeling unwell, employees should seek early medical advice and not go to work. All staff should maintain good personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. The office should be well ventilated, and windows opened from time to time. Air conditioners should be well maintained and cleaned regularly. Office furniture and equipment should be kept clean.

    18. How can I prevent contracting the disease in a lift?
    Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. Wear a face mask if you have symptoms of a respiratory tract infection. Building management should ensure lifts and public access areas are kept clean - lift control panels and door handles should be thoroughly and frequently cleaned with disinfectant or a diluted bleach.

    19. Should I take any precautions when visiting a health care facility?
    The Department of Health has issued advice to all doctors on the prevention of spreading the disease in health care settings. People seeking medical consultation should maintain good personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently. Wear a face mask.

    20. What precautions should be adopted if a family member or friend has contracted the disease?
    People should avoid visiting patients with atypical pneumonia. People who have close contact with patients suffering from the disease should:
    - Observe quarantine regulations. You will be required to stop work, stay at home and report daily to surveillance centres for 10 days.
    - If you must leave your home, wear a face mask and observe good personal hygiene.
    - If you think you may have had contact with an infected person, wear a face mask for at least 10 days and seek medical advice.
    - At home, clean toys and furniture properly (using a solution of 1 part bleach : 49 parts water).
    - Pay special attention to your health and hygiene. Wash hands frequently.
    - Seek early medical advice if feeling unwell.

    21. Will the Department of Health disinfect the homes of confirmed disease cases?
    No, but the Department of Health will provide disinfection advice to the families concerned, and those with whom they have had contact.

    22. Should clothes be washed after visiting hospitals?
    Yes. Wash them immediately you get home.

    23. What is the Department of Health advice about sharing food at home or in restaurants?
    Do not share eating utensils. Adopt the good practice of using serving spoons and chopsticks.

    Face masks

    24. Can the disease be prevented by wearing a face mask?
    Yes, a face mask can help prevent the transmission of the disease. Make sure hands are washed before putting on a mask.

    25. Who should wear a face mask?
    The following people should wear a face mask:
    - People with respiratory infection symptoms
    - People who care for patients with respiratory infection symptoms
    - People who have been in close contact with confirmed cases of atypical pneumonia should wear a face mask for at least 10 days from the last contact
    - Health care workers

    26. What type of face mask should be used?
    An ordinary surgical face mask is effective in preventing the spread of droplet infections.

    27. Is the N95 face mask the only effective model to prevent atypical pneumonia?
    Surgical face masks and the N95 face mask are both effective in preventing the spread of droplet infections.

    28. How often should a face mask be replaced?
    In general, a surgical face mask needs to be changed daily. However, replace the face mask immediately if it becomes worn or damaged.


    29. Is it safe to travel to the mainland of China?
    The WHO has advised travellers to avoid travel to parts of China

    30. Is it safe for tourists to visit Hong Kong?
    Hong Kong has a high standard of medical care and effective disease surveillance systems in place. Therefore, Hong Kong is still a safe place to visit.

    31. Should tourists take any precautions when visiting Hong Kong?
    Observe good personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently. Avoid visiting overly crowded places that are poorly ventilated.

    For more information: Call the Department of Health's pre-recorded health education hotline on 2833 0111, or the Department of Health hotline on 2961 8968 during office hours, or visit the Department's website at : www.info.gov.hk/dh


    Last Updated: April 7, 2003

    Department of Health

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Hong Kong