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UN health agency issues global alert on atypical pneumonia

UN health agency issues global alert on atypical pneumonia

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert today about a severe, atypical form of pneumonia reported to have spread among hospital staff in Viet Nam and Hong Kong, and in Guangdong province in China.

WHO is working with national authorities to ensure appropriate investigation, reporting and containment of these outbreaks,” the agency said in a statement in Geneva.

The outbreak in Viet Nam began with a patient hospitalized for acute respiratory syndrome shortly after arriving in Hanoi from Shanghai and Hong Kong. After his admission some 20 hospital staff became sick with similar symptoms – flu-like illness with rapid onset of high fever followed by muscle aches, headache and sore throat.

In Hong Kong, the hospital authority increased infection control measures today after an outbreak of respiratory illness in a public hospital. As of yesterday, 50 health care workers had been screened, 23 were found to have fever and admitted for observation, and eight developed early chest X-ray signs of pneumonia. Three other health care workers were found to have fever, two with chest X-ray signs of pneumonia.

So far, no link has been found between these cases and the outbreak in Hanoi or with last month’s outbreak of “bird flu” in Hong Kong, WHO said. The outbreaks appear to be confined to hospitals and those at highest risk appear to be staff caring for the patients. In mid February, the Government of China also reported 305 cases of atypical pneumonia, with five deaths in Guangdong province.

“Until more is known about the cause of these outbreaks, WHO recommends patients with atypical pneumonia who may be related to these outbreaks be isolated with barrier nursing techniques,” the UN agency said. “At the same time, WHO recommends that any suspect cases be reported to national health authorities.”